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Help is on the Way….Eventually

Pamela Atwood, Director of Housing Policy

As we enter mid-March, hundreds of thousands of households across the state continue to await rent and utility assistance in the hopes of staying housed. The many small landlords that depend on this rent in order to maintain these properties and to meet their own financial obligations also sit in limbo. The state’s emergency rental assistance program, the HOPE Program, continues to process applications and make payments to those who applied in the fall of 2020. Due to the overwhelming number of applications, NCORR, the agency administering statewide rental assistance, was forced to close the application period after only a few short weeks. 

Meanwhile, the additional relief that North Carolina is receiving from the December 2020 COVID-19 relief package is making its way to residents. Last week, the General Assembly passed House Bill 196, the 2021 COVID-19 Response & Relief Bill (SB 172), which includes several provisions related to approving funding for the state’s broader COVID-19 response, including the next pot of funds for emergency rental assistance. Unfortunately, the General Assembly attached provisions to that rental assistance which will result in further delay in an already long overdue assistance. For more about this bill see last week’s Legislative Alert.

With so many North Carolinians already many months behind in rent and at risk of eviction, speed in the delivery of rental assistance is the most important factor. Researchers continue to confirm that keeping people housed correlates with lower rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths. Additionally, the millions of dollars in unpaid rent are a part of a broader chain of economic activity (i.e., mortgage payments, property taxes, skilled trade work, and numerous other goods and services) that will yield additional long-term devastation if the issue continues to go unaddressed. Rather than enabling faster deployment of rent and utility assistance, the provisions of HB 196 instead installs speed bumps and road blocks.

With Wednesday’s passage of the American Rescue Plan Act in Congress, almost $50 billion in resources for renters, people experiencing homelessness, and homeowners is on the way. President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law on Friday. North Carolina should expect to receive hundreds of millions of dollars to continue to assist renters and unhoused persons along with homeowners who have also been struggling with housing stability.

Now is the time for the state to be ramping up and figuring out how to most quickly get assistance and resources to those who need it. The passage of HB 196 should be concerning to housing advocates and most importantly to those who need those resources to stay housed, healthy, and safe. Resources such as the Treasury Department Emergency Rental Assistance Program already have programmatic and administrative guidance and requirements attached to them. Adding further complexity at the state level only delays and impedes assistance that has been needed for months. The cost of this policy meddling will be felt by those that are saddled with thousands of dollars in back rent and delinquent utility bills. This cannot continue with the next round of rental assistance ERA, which is part of why the Coalition has begun to engage in a broader advocacy and organizing effort to include the voices of those directly impacted by such policies and build new bases of political power. For more information on joining NCHC’s Advocates Circle, please contact Adrienne Spinner:

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Policy Update 3-11-21

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