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Agencies offer assistance to people facing eviction

With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of the month (North Carolina’s moratorium expired at the end of June), there are still many people across the state — including in Stanly County — struggling with housing and utility bills and unsure of what the future will hold.

The Associated Press wrote last month that by the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent. Approximately 4.2 million adults recently reported being at risk of eviction or foreclosure in July and August, according to data from the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

“We have gotten more phone calls in the last few weeks than we have for a while” regarding rental and utility assistance, said Salem Taylor, executive director of the United Way of Stanly County.

Heather Kilde, executive director of Stanly Community Christian Ministry, which provides clients financial assistance, including rent and utilities, anticipates being flooded with calls early next month once the federal moratorium expires.

“We’re seeing folks that are just many months behind (on paying rent) because they just didn’t understand how a moratorium worked,” Kilde said.

Over the past year, the organization has spent $120,000 in rent assistance for 244 households, Kilde said. The amount of financial assistance each applicant receives is dependent upon several factors, including how many family members they have and their specific rent. Applicants can only receive assistance from SCCM once a year.

“This year, we’ve seen quite a few new applicants,” including 27 just last month, Kilde said. Households are deemed new if SCCM hasn’t seen them in the past five years.

For families calling for assistance who have already been helped by SCCM, Kilde and her staff have been referring them to the NC Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) Program.

Since last October, the HOPE Program, which provides rent and utility assistance to low-income renters in 88 counties experiencing economic hardships due to the pandemic, has awarded roughly $250 million in assistance to help almost 70,000 families statewide, according to its website.

In order to be eligible for the program, applicants must meet a few requirements: they have to be renters, have missed rent or utility payments sometime since last April, have lost income or employment due to the pandemic and have household income less than 80 percent of the area median income for the county (Stanly’s median income for 2021 is $62,200).

Eligible applicants may receive up to 12 months of rent assistance, which may include up to nine months of past due rent, according to the Hope program’s website. All awards are determined based on what is owed and are capped at the fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit in your county. (For Stanly County, the 2021 fair market market rent for a two-bedroom unit is $693.)

Rent assistance is paid to the landlord on behalf of the applicant. Landlords that accept this phase of HOPE funds agree to not evict the applicant for non-payment of rent during the period of assistance and for at least 60 days after that period ends.

Utility assistance is available to applicants that apply and qualify for rent assistance. The assistance is paid to a utility provider on behalf of an applicant for up to three months of past due utilities. Applicants must present a bill, statement or other proof of utility assistance needed at the time of application to the program.

People applying for utility assistance can receive up to $510 for electricity, $135 for natural gas, propane or heating oil, $105 for water and $120 for wastewater.

To apply for the Hope program, visit www.rebuild.nc.gov/hope-program/applicant-pre-screening-tool.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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