The Supreme Court's decision to end President Joe Biden's eviction moratorium this past August leaves many Latino and Black communities — the ones facing a higher risk of eviction — with very few choices moving forward.
One of the options these communities are left with is applying to local rent relief programs. However, community activists say they're concerned about the application process. Although funds are readily available, the procedure is complex and inaccessible to many people in these communities.
The federal eviction moratorium, implemented for the first time in September 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to prevent an increase in homelessness and further propagation of the coronavirus, has now come to its end. This leaves thousands of people facing eviction in North Carolina without many options other than soliciting help from local programs.
Currently, 23% of the population in the state of North Carolina has failed to pay rent at least once, according to the U.S. Census, and 15.8% of the population is at risk of eviction.
This leaves a high number of Black and Latino communities in danger of eviction since these groups have been the most affected by the pandemic. According to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, the number of Black and Latino renters that are behind on housing payments was more than twice as high as that of white households. Among renters, 23% of Black households and 20% of Hispanic households were behind, compared with 10% of white households.
Since the situation became exacerbated by the pandemic, and with the number of evictions seeming to rise, Governor Roy Cooper urged renters at the beginning of May to take advantage of local and national programs created to provide rent relief. These include HOPE, ERA, and in the case of Forsyth County and Winston-Salem, ERAP.
This process, however, was described by Juan Miranda, the executive organizer for Siembra NC, as “tedious and unknown” for many Latino families — not to mention it's a long and intense process that becomes inaccessible in most cases. The technical language and the lack of professional guidance to navigate the process of application is a big part of the issue.
“The way the information is presented about these programs is inaccessible for the Latino community,” explained Miranda. “We did a poll with our membership and more than half of them didn't even know that they qualify for the help, it has also been extremely difficult to get in contact with local offices in different counties.”
Miranda also mentioned that unfortunately, most of these offices are backed up due to a lack of personnel.
“A recurring problem that we've encountered is that we've tried to get in contact with people in these offices and most times they might not have someone who speaks Spanish," says Miranda. "Or for example, we called the office in Cabarrus County and they told us that there's a waiting list of six months, which complicates the situation for someone who might be facing eviction in a week or two.”
Dan Rose, Housing Justice Now organizer, also clarified that the application process and the time it takes for people to receive the aid is slower in comparison to the eviction process. When a landlord goes to court and files the papers to start the process of eviction, the papers get to court in a week or so.
Forsyth County's local courts, for example, saw an increase in eviction hearings during the lapse of renewal of the eviction moratorium the first week of August.
“August 2 there was a lapse in renewal of the eviction moratorium and on that day there were 146 eviction hearings scheduled in the Small Claims Court here in Forsyth County," Rose explained. "Of those cases, 98 resulted in judgments for possession for the landlords. That was a rate of 67% that led to eviction judgment in court that day.”
Rose explains that resources are definitely out there, however, he says that, “information is not accessible for the communities that need it the most, and it has become impossible to navigate for renters.”
According to both Rose and Miranda, the end of the eviction moratorium will cause a rise in evictions, and although local organizations are doing everything in their power to help tenants solicit local aid, the process is lengthy and discouraging for many. It's also a different process in every county. Also, many of the organizations require documentation such as birth certificates and proof of citizenship, which excludes undocumented people.
Both activists said that although resources are accessible through the internet and the information is out there, it is not the best way to reach Hispanic communities.
“The resources are out there, the best way to reach our folks is door to door, canvassing, talking to them in person,” explained Miranda. "If we don't do that intentional work to get to people, especially undocumented folks, who don't have a lot of trust in government institutions, it is hard for them to even imagine they can access these resources.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.
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 88.5 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