Thousands of North Carolina residents are in danger of losing their homes as courts begin issuing eviction orders again this month. The threat is amplified for immigrants here illegally, whose status disqualifies them from government programs that could help pay the rent.
Isamar lives in Charlotte with her husband and two children. We're not using her full name because she is not here legally. After the coronavirus pandemic struck, both parents got laid off - she as a hotel housekeeper and he in construction.
"Because of the virus we lost our jobs and that put us behind on rent. And now it’s worse because my husband had an accident and our court date is tomorrow so we don’t know what we’re going to do," she said.
They're due at Mecklenburg District Court Tuesday morning, where they worry a judge will order them to be evicted. They tried mediation with their corporate landlord, and had an offer of $4,300 in emergency rental aid from Crisis Assistance Ministry, said Juan Hernandez, Isamar's lawyer from Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.
"The mediator had Crisis (Assistance) on the phone, and they were working to reach a fast settlement. But the landlord did not accept the terms," Hernandez said.
The $4,300 was about $1,000 short of what they owe, said Hernandez, who did not identify the company.
Finding Help Difficult
The couple came to the U.S. from Guatemala 15 years ago for protection and a better life, Isamar said. Until the pandemic, they've had steady jobs and paid all the taxes they owe. Now, getting help has been difficult, said Isamar. Her husband is here legally and her two kids were born here, and are U.S. citizens. But because Isamar lacks legal status, the whole family was disqualified from government benefits that could help pay the rent.
"We don’t get help from anyone, those of us who are undocumented. A lot of us are going through this," she said.
She's right, Hernandez said. He doesn't have an exact number, but said he has seen dozens of cases like this one across the region in recent months. He said new cases at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy are six times what they were a year ago.
"There's a ton of families in the community who just have one person who's undocumented. And because that one person's undocumented, the entire family's excluded from receiving any stimulus funding payment. And that stimulus payment really would make the difference for a lot of people," Hernandez said.
Hernandez said immigrant families are among the most vulnerable in the midst of the current housing crisis and pandemic.
And the situation shows no signs of improvement, said Bill Rowe. He is with the North Carolina Justice Center, which works on housing and other economic justice issues.
"I don't think we have seen the worst of it (evictions), because the resources have stopped for some people. And then for those immigrant communities, they never really started. And in some ways, they can be a sort of unseen folks who are trying to struggle to get by," Rowe said.
As for Isamar and her family, eviction is unfathomable. They'll have 10 days to appeal an eviction order, or try to work out another deal for rental assistance. They will be able to stay in their home for as long as the appeal takes, which could be weeks.
WFAE reporter Laura Brache contributed to this story.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy web page on immigrant services, https://charlottelegaladvocacy.org/immigrants/