Renters and landlords alike are struggling to keep up with the turning tides of the housing market in a pandemic. The Orange County Emergency Housing Assistance program has stepped up to accommodate those in unpredictable living situations.
Delores Bailey is the executive director of EmPOWERment, Inc., a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit that helps renters who are fearful of eviction and homeowners who cannot pay their mortgages. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on renters and homeowners in Orange County, Bailey said.
To help solve the looming housing crisis, the Orange County Housing and Community Development department coordinated with the towns of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough to pool housing funds and coordinate aid guidelines.
What the Orange County Emergency Housing Assistance program is
The goal of the Emergency Housing Assistance program is to help people stay in their housing and avoid increased homelessness, Nate Broman-Fulks, affordable housing manager for Chapel Hill, said. He said affordable housing is a long-term need that will outlast the pandemic due to a nationwide trend of increasing rent and home prices.
The program provides emergency funds to help Orange County residents with low incomes prevent eviction and homelessness, as well as secure and maintain stable housing.
“As housing practitioners, it’s our dream to build these programs up, it’s a dream to be able to provide a more researched and higher level of service to people in need,” Emila Sutton, director of Housing and Community Development for Orange County, said.
Sutton said the office is now receiving 300 applications a month, compared to 34 applications in April 2020. The increase in applications is in part because of how the program has worked to lower the access barrier for residents in immediate need of housing aid.
Prior to the pandemic, while Sutton was transitioning into her director position in September 2019, she said there was only a shell of what would become the Housing and Community Development program. $75,000 of local funds had been allocated by the department in 2017 toward risk mitigation and housing stabilization.