Finding Home: CDC Moratorium Can Help, But It Can't Stop All Evictions
As many as 40 million renters nationwide have fallen behind on their rent and faced the threat of eviction this year. For now, a Sept. 1 order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes it harder for property owners to kick out tenants who are suffering financially amid the coronavirus pandemic. But it's not a guarantee against evictions.
Nichole Cureton lives in a trailer park on Albemarle Road in east Charlotte. She'll be in court Tuesday for an eviction hearing after not paying her $800-a-month rent the past few months. That's because she took leave from her job as a registered behavior technician to stay home and help her three kids with their online-only classes.
“I was paying my rent pretty good up until about August, you know, I started falling behind,” she said.
The 43-year-old single mother had hoped to go back to work in August. But then Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools decided to stick with remote instruction for the start of the new school year. So she stayed on leave.
She says the landlord has ordered her out because he's trying to sell the property for development.
“And I just told him that, you know, right now, I couldn't, I wasn't in a position to move,” Cureton said.
CDC Order Doesn't Help All
The CDC moratorium is aimed at preventing spread of the coronavirus. The idea is that if people are forced into homelessness, shelters or crowded housing, they'll be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
But it doesn't halt evictions across the board. It only applies to people who haven't paid their rent and who can show they've lost their jobs or income because of the pandemic. They also have to meet income limits, says Hannah Guerrier, a lawyer with Legal Aid of North Carolina.
“The CDC order isn't so much a moratorium as it is a defense that some tenants can raise,” Guerrier said. “The tenant protections under the CDC order, they're not automatic.”
The way it's written, the onus is on renters to notify their landlords with a written statement certifying that they qualify. Cureton has done that.
“With the CDC order, my lawyer was telling me that he couldn't evict me until at least the end of December, early January. But he is coming by, leaving me letters telling me that I need to leave,” Cureton said.
Landlord Wants Her Out
Cureton's landlord says she has had trouble paying the rent in the past. He didn't want to be named in this story. He says he has a contract with a potential developer, and just wants her to leave so he can sell the property.
His frustration is another recurring theme with evictions in North Carolina and nationwide. Many property owners say they're also suffering as they wait for unpaid rent to come in. For them, the main antidote to the eviction moratorium is money — to help cover all that unpaid rent.
State and federal rental assistance has been a help, but it's going fast.
Evictions resumed this summer, after North Carolina's own ban on evictions ended June 21, and before the CDC moratorium took effect Sept. 4. Meanwhile, the extra $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits ran out in July. That prompted a crush of applications for aid that hasn't let up.
Julie Porter is president of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, which is managing COVID-19 rental assistance for the city.
“I think it is getting worse at this point,” Porter said. “It was a challenge in August, especially when we had such a huge increase in the number of applications; I mean, more than triple. At this point, money is going out pretty quickly.”
More Aid On The Way
The city has allocated about $9 million in federal CARES Act funds so far to help with rental assistance. And in August, Gov. Roy Cooper promised $175 million more for rent and utilities, paid mainly with federal CARES Act funds. Charlotte-Mecklenburg will get $7.7 million of that, Porter said.
Despite the rental assistance, Porter said some housing providers are trying to skirt the eviction moratorium.
“We've had some rough situations with some, you know, bad actor landlords," she said. "What they're doing is trying to get around it. They're trying to find other reasons to evict other than lack of payment due to COVID."
But she said others have approached her and asked how they can tap into that pool of rental aid.
Porter said both landlords and renters must apply. She says the city has reduced barriers, such as allowing tenants to self-certify their incomes, instead of supplying paper documentation.
"That's a message to get out there — that this is pretty darn simple to apply," she said. "And we do need a relationship with their landlord. That can sometimes take some time … because the payments go directly to the landlord, not to the person."
Preventing More Evictions
More evictions can be avoided if the word gets out about the program, adds the city's housing director, Pamela Wideman.
“We've had some good results, but we want to make sure that people know about that assistance and are going to the partnership to get that assistance,” she said.
Meanwhile, Legal Aid lawyer Hannah Guerrier says the CDC moratorium is helping prevent evictions — for now. But tenants still owe their monthly rent.
So she urges tenants she represents to continue making whatever payments they can, and to work out payment plans with landlords.
“Ideally, come January, that eviction case has now been dismissed, because the matter has resolved,” Guerrier said.
Trying To Work It Out
Charlotte renter Nichole Cureton may not have an easy time of it. Even if she wins a reprieve in court Tuesday, she's still facing a landlord who wants her out. She said she had an offer of $2,400 in rental assistance from Crisis Assistance Ministry to pay off what she owes. But her landlord rejected it. He even offered her $800 to leave, she said. But she said that won't help. She and her kids are living on $274 a week in unemployment and she's still waiting for a federal stimulus check.
Cureton is worried about finding a landlord who will rent to her.
"With me being out of work, I have no current check stubs to present to realty companies, to find a new place to go," she said. "So I'm just pretty much stuck right now."
Her landlord said he persuaded eight other families to move out of their trailers at the park, but Cureton won't go.
They'll find out in court Tuesday what happens next.
OCT. 15 UPDATE: Nichole Cureton has reached an agreement with the landlord to be out by Oct. 24 and is looking for a new home. She says she wants to avoid eviction or a lawsuit.
RAMPCLT.com has information COVID-19 rent and mortgage assistance for Charlotte.
Action NC's Tenant Organizing and Resource Center has a telephone hotline, 704-284-7154, where tenants seek help with evictions and predatory landlords.
Read the full CDC order on evictions at Federal Register.gov
Evictions by the Numbers
In Mecklenburg County, property owners filed about 10,891 petitions for evictions between Jan. 1 and Sept. 1, the most recent data available. Of those, 1,647 were pending, as of Aug. 31. More than 8,400 evictions were pending statewide on Aug. 31, the most recent data available. About 68,000 evictions were processed between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31.
It's getting more difficult to put numbers on evictions in North Carolina. A spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg County courthouse said the clerk's office must compile data manually, and "can no longer devote resources to this."
The Mecklenburg County's Sheriff's Office resumed physical evictions in July after the state moratorium ended. Here are monthly totals since then, according to the Sheriff's Office:
- July - 118
- August - 180
- September - 244
- October - 67, as of Oct. 9
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