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NC Renters Brace For Possible Mass Evictions

Stephanie Wilder of Durham, Protest
Leoneda Inge

It’s the first of the month. For many, that means September’s rent is due. But because of Covid-related unemployment, hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians may not be able to pay, and could face eviction.

One Durham resident fighting eviction is Stephanie Wilder, a mother and a grandmother. She says, for the first time in her life, she joined a protest last week. Wilder and about 25 other people chanted and sang, "We Shall Not Be Moved,"outside the Durham County Courthouse.

Wilder is waiting for a court date to fight her pending eviction. She said it was time to protest.

“It just feel normal to me," Wilder said. "It’s just normal telling my story and my truth. It just feels normal."

A couple of months ago, Wilder says she tested positive for COVID-19 and couldn’t work. She is a home health worker. That means she didn’t pay July’s rent. When she was able to get the dollars together, it was too late. She had an eviction notice.

Cris Batista works with the Lakewood Community Project and Lakewood Mutual Aid in Durham. She says they have come across a lot of folks like Stephanie Wilder.

“As a group in Lakewood we were really thinking about what our neighbors would be going through, and really what all of us might be going through, soon enough," Batista said.  "Rent and issues of housing and civility is an issue for many folks.”

Batista said because of all of the concern surrounding eviction in her neighborhood, she helped form a new group, "Bull City Tenants United." Recent numbers and a report from the Durham Human Relations Commission shows the Durham County eviction rate is the highest in the state.

The CARES Act that was passed in March halted evictions for renters living in federally subsidized housing or properties with federally-backed mortgages. That offered several months of protection for renters during the pandemic.  But that moratorium expired in July. Landlords were then able to issue 30-day eviction notices to tenants who didn’t pay the rent.

Now, more than 700,000 people in the state are at risk of being evicted, according to a report by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.

Kathryn Sabbeth is a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also heads the Civil Legal Assistance Clinic at UNC’s School of Law. The clinic represents tenants and helps educate people on their rights as renters. Sabbeth says the scope of the eviction problem will be "severe" in North Carolina.

“It looks like they’re predicting that by the end of this year, 25% of rental households face a risk of eviction in North Carolina," Sabbeth said, citing data from the Aspen Institute. "That’s North Carolina specific.”

Sabbeth says the looming eviction crisis sheds a light on existing housing inequality.

“Data suggests that the majority of those impacted by eviction, even before the pandemic, were women and children of color," Sabbeth said. "Disproportionately African Americans, but also Latinx community.”

Some relief for renters was announced last week. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper says $175 million will be available to help people struggling to pay for rent and utilities. The money will come from three grant programs tied to COVID-19 relief. These funds won’t be available immediately though, which doesn’t do much for those worried about September’s rent.

Leoneda Inge is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Leoneda has been a radio journalist for more than 30 years, spending most of her career at WUNC as the Race and Southern Culture reporter. Leoneda’s work includes stories of race, slavery, memory and monuments. She has won "Gracie" awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and several awards from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). In 2017, Leoneda was named "Journalist of Distinction" by the National Association of Black Journalists.
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