Some North Carolina landlords rejecting HOPE program rent payments for struggling tenants on verge of eviction

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DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) — When Gov. Roy Cooper announced the Housing Opportunity and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) program, it was a relief for tens of thousands of North Carolinians who were behind on their rent.

According to the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency, the HOPE program received 55,916 applications, 42,681 of which were eligible for funds. So far, the program has assisted 2,641 households with $7.9 million in rental assistance and $1.7 million in utility assistance.

Approximately 2,000 more households have been awarded funds and are signing agreements, totaling $8 million more set to go out soon.

RELATED: North Carolinians await N.C. HOPE Program funds for rent, utilities

But even after their applications were approved, some renters said their landlords turned away the guaranteed rent.

“I had hope, but I don’t anymore,” said one Durham single mom who asked to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliation.

The mother said she fell several months behind on rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and so when her property manager provided her information about the HOPE program, she applied and was approved for six months of rent payments.

However, she said her landlord said they would not accept the rent.

“Oh no, we aren’t going to accept it because they want us to do certain things so we don’t want to do it, so you’re right back at square one,” the mother said.

In an email, the landlord told the woman they “do not agree to the overly burdensome agreements contained in the landlord agreement portion of the program.”

According to the HOPE program website, landlords must adhere to the following before accepting funds:
Agree not to evict the tenant and end any current eviction proceedings until the end of the lease
Agree not to increase rent for the rest of the lease
Agree to maintain a safe and habitable dwelling for the tenant
Agree not to impose new charges, fees or penalties on the tenant for the rest of the lease

“It’s frustrating,” the mother said. “It’s a false sense of hope.”

And she isn’t alone. ABC11 Troubleshooter Diane Wilson heard from several other renters facing the same devastating news. But Haley Pfeiffer Haynes, a representative of the HOPE program, said there is some help available for these tenants.

“I’m always sad to hear when a landlord will not participate because that means that that household is not going to get rent assistance,” Haynes said. “But we will still assist them with utility payments, and they are protected from eviction through the end of the year at least.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a halt on evictions in early September, about a month after the previous moratorium expired. Around the same time, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced his own directive to halt evictions.

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Under the CDC moratorium, anyone who has earned less than $99,000 (or $198,000 for a couple) this year, has lost their job or income due to COVID-19, has sought government assistance for rent payments and has nowhere else to live outside of a congregate setting qualified for the program.

However, the CDC’s plan did not provide assistance for families, nor did it absolve renters of their past due bills. Instead, the moratorium meant renters could delay payments until the order expires on December 31.

Of course, as that date approaches, families are nervous that their mounting overdue rent could spell out homelessness in the days after Christmas.

“Pretty much I have to move, find somewhere to live in the middle of a pandemic,” the mother said. “I’m trying to reach out to other resources and do everything.”

Several local governments, like Wake County, have assistance programs, as well as non-profits. Information about those programs can be found online here.

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