The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday October 19th

What you need to know if you're facing evictions amid the pandemic in Orange County

An off-campus house on Franklin Street pictured on Sunday, May 17, 2020.
Buy Photos A house on Franklin Street as pictured on Sunday, May 17, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is decreased housing security and fear over evictions in Orange County.

As the pandemic has caused unprecedented layoffs and furloughs across the country, the threat of eviction has become a major concern for millions of American families. 

The Aspen Institute estimates approximately 30 to 40 million people in America are at risk of eviction in the coming months. North Carolina, which logged an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent in August, is no exception.

Emila Sutton, Orange County's director of housing and community development, said the county has fared considerably well in maintaining low numbers of eviction hearings. She said countywide courts only heard 28 eviction hearings total in August.

Additionally, Clerk of Superior Court Mark Kleinschmidt said he filed only three writs, or motions to move forward with evictions, in August. 

These low numbers are due to forces, on both the federal and local government levels, that have prevented eviction hearings from happening and provided proactive rent assistance to prevent these cases from ever reaching court.

For those who are facing, or fear they are at risk of facing an eviction hearing in Orange County, here are four things you need to know:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ordered a nationwide eviction moratorium through the rest of 2020

Eviction moratoriums, several of which have been enacted in previous months at state and federal levels, prevent owners from filing evictions against tenants until a certain date. On Sept. 2, the CDC issued a national moratorium that prevents tenants from being served eviction hearings until after Dec. 31. 

However, the moratorium requires that tenants facing eviction make a legal declaration explaining their best efforts to pay rent and receive assistance, and their current inability to do so. The declaration is available on the CDC’s website and can also be drafted with the help of Orange County Housing. It is important to note that this moratorium doesn’t provide for rent forgiveness, but merely the delaying of payments.

  • Orange County Housing is proactively administering rent assistance to residents, even those who have not been given eviction notices. 

Sutton said that residents facing difficulty with paying rent or utilities that make no more than 60 percent of the area median income may request up to $6,500 per month in aid, sent directly to their landlords and utility companies. 

Sutton said this proactive rent assistance is a major element of Orange County’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program, and one of the reasons the county has been able to maintain low numbers of eviction hearings. These resources can be accessed at Orange County’s website, or by calling the “Housing Helpline” at (919) 245-2655.

  • Those who are served eviction hearings now have a four-week window before their court date. 

Kleinschmidt said the window of eviction hearings in Orange County has changed from 10 days to 30. He said this extended window gives tenants facing evictions the time to contact and work with Orange County Housing. Sutton said Orange County Housing can frequently still resolve the issue, if it’s related to nonpayment, by getting the unpaid dues to the landlord.

  • Free legal counsel and representation is available to those who do have their day in court. 

Sutton said Orange County Housing is providing in-court representation and legal counsel to those facing eviction, even on the day of hearings. 

Since June, Orange County’s designated legal counsel, Jeanine Soufan, has been working in the courthouse with those facing eviction to inform them of their rights and options and provide legal representation during hearings. Soufan said she has worked with Kleinschmidt to set up a small office just outside of the courtrooms in small claims court, where she does intake for clients awaiting their hearings.

“I think it’s very important for Orange County residents to know as tenants that they do have rights,” Soufan said.

@BrianDRosie

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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