After working for years as a painter, Felix Ruiz got fired from his job due to coronavirus, and he's been unable to pay rent. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his wife and kids and has only been able to keep it so far because of the federal eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under then President Trump. The CDC's moratorium was recently extended through July. It leaves the door open for states to make a choice on whether to extend their own eviction halts. Right now, the North Carolina moratorium is set to expire on June 30, and panic is starting to set in for people like Ruiz.
“The thought never leaves my head. How am I going to do it and deal with it? Where am I supposed to get the money from to pay my overdue balance?” says Ruiz. The 45-year old father and husband is the sole provider for his family and has been struggling to find a job, making it nearly impossible for him to pay his monthly rent and dialysis hospital expenses.
Put in place to protect people unable to pay rent during the pandemic, the eviction moratorium puts a halt on landlords planning to evict tenants who can't pay due to a loss in income or an increase in medical expenses. Governor Roy Cooper is under mounting pressure from landlords and realtors to end it. But for people like Ruiz, the moratorium has been a lifeline and it was by luck that he even learned about it through someone he knew.
“Someone told me about the moratorium and then I looked for the information and, thank God, I went to court and there were people there working for Housing Justice Now that helped me, and from there a lawyer from Wake Forest spoke to me, and that's how my case has been going so far,” says Ruiz.
Currently, there are many programs to help tenants with rental assistance, however, the concern is that the most vulnerable communities are unaware of the programs or how to navigate the process to receive assistance. Kevin Cheshire with the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem says his team has been working to let tenants know about some of the resources, such as Forsyth County's Emergency Rental Assistance Programs, or ERAP, but the disconnect remains.
“Our staff has been setting up workshops where we assist the residents in applying for the ERAP dollars that can be applied to past due rent. We've just had a hard time getting resident participation. We've just had a hard time getting residents to show up and utilize this workshop,” Cheshire explains.
Once the moratorium is lifted, the pending balance remains, and most renters won't be able to pay overdue rent. Currently, nearly 200,000 households in North Carolina are still behind on rent, according to a report from National Equity Atlas. And Black and Latino communities are the hardest hit since they are currently the ones making up the largest demographic of renters facing eviction.
“We see locally here census tracks that are predominantly African-American and Latinx are facing the worst of the eviction crisis,” says Dan Rose, a sociologist and a member of the Winston-Salem advocacy group Housing Justice Now. “Especially in Winston-Salem, Latinx women are being hit the hardest.”
Governor Cooper pledged to revisit whether or not to extend the moratorium before the deadline. For Ruiz, this is a breath of fresh air, at least for now. “My life has become extremely complicated but I have to be strong because I have no other choice.”
He's still providing for his family and attending his routine dialysis three times a week. But when the eviction ban does come to an end, that could all change.
*Editor's Note: Since this story originally aired, it was announced that the North Carolina eviction moratorium will end effective July 1. According to a press release, "Some North Carolina renters retain protection against evictions based upon the CDC moratorium." Those renters must meet certain requirements.
This story was produced by a partnership between WFDD and La Noticia. You can read this story in Spanish at La Noticia.
Eileen Rodriguez is a reporter for both WFDD and La Noticia through Report for America, where she covers COVID-19's impact in the Latino Communities.
Periodista de La Noticia y 88.1 WFDD, Eileen Rodríguez reporta el impacto de COVID-19 en la comunidad Latina en Carolina del Norte. Rodríguez es miembro del cuerpo de periodistas de Report for America 2021-2022