Although Orange County's evictions are half of what they were before the pandemic, many tenants are still grappling with how to use local and nationwide protections while navigating a complicated court system.
Emila Sutton, director of housing and community development for Orange County, said the decrease in evictions is in part due to the county and the towns of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough putting over $2 million into the Emergency Housing Assistance program.
Sutton said the Emergency Housing Assistance Program has helped over 700 people in the county avoid eviction since January by helping with their housing-related payments. Prior to the pandemic, she said the program helped about 10-12 people per month, but it helped over 300 people in September.
“Our neighboring communities are seeing a big increase in the number of evictions, while we are actually seeing lower than pre-pandemic numbers,” Sutton said.
However, she said the program is running out of funds and stopped covering costs for rent, mortgage and utilities as of Oct. 19. Orange County residents can now apply for help with rent or utility bills through the Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions Program.
The North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency gave the county's Housing and Community Development Department $700,000 to begin administering HOPE on Oct. 19. Over 100 people have requested help as of Oct. 22, Sutton said.
The HOPE program is more restrictive on who qualifies for assistance, as well as what costs it covers, so Sutton said she is hoping the county will give more funding to continue providing assistance through the Emergency Housing Assistance Program.
“Local funds are much more flexible and much easier for us to be able to provide the exact assistance that someone needs," she said.
While the county has been able to prevent many evictions since the pandemic started, the need for housing payment assistance hasn't slowed because many people have remained jobless during the pandemic.