The following is a copy of a letter was recently sent to North Carolina Governor, Roy Cooper; North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore, Phil Berger; and North Carolina House Speaker, Tim Moore.
This letter is written to you on behalf of the Eviction Prevention Working Group. The Working Group was formed under the sponsorship of the Duke Law School Global Financial Markets Center and North Carolina Leadership Forum, also housed at Duke University, to develop policy solutions to an impending eviction crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic contraction that followed. The Working Group’s membership includes representatives of the public, private and nonprofit sectors. We are writing in support of the efforts by the General Assembly and you to deal with the eviction and utility crisis.
We appreciate the quick action by North Carolina’s Congressional delegation and the General Assembly to provide rental and utility payment support to distressed renters and property owners through the December 2020 Federal Emergency Rental Assistance program and its companion North Carolina legislation, SB36. This much needed aid is critical to many individual investors who have substantial portions of their savings invested in small portfolios of rental housing. These “small business” persons provide between 30% and 40% of the affordable housing stock in North Carolina. The combination of unemployment among their tenants and the resulting lack of rental income is straining property owners and renters.
Rental and utility payment relief is also crucial to many renters facing unemployment or other financial strains as a result of COVID-19 and the economic contraction. A large number of households facing utility cutoffs are not protected by the eviction moratoria, and these cutoffs and arrearages cause substantial problems both for the renters and for rural cooperatives and municipal electric companies. Rental assistance also plays a valuable public health role in helping to keep North Carolinians in safe and secure housing and discouraging renters from moving, which could contribute to increased spread of COVID-19.
In implementing the legislation enacted in December 2020, we respectfully suggest that:
- Speed Matters.
Funds allocated under the recently enacted Federal and State legislation should be distributed as soon as possible. The financial distress of renters and moratoria on evictions while many rental payments are unpaid have put substantial financial strain on property owners, who are not receiving rent necessary to maintain their property and pay their mortgages, and on renters, who are facing substantial and growing rental obligations in arrears and the impending expiration moratoria preventing most evictions.
- Simplicity Matters
While we understand the importance of assuring that support payments go to those most in need, we would point out that requiring extensive documentation to obtain relief will complicate the administration of the program and work against the urgent need to provide aid to property owners and renters.
- Consistency Matters
We are concerned that the federal enabling legislation’s allocation of rental support funds to a number of local governments as well as to the State of North Carolina will result in an inconsistent quality of relief to those in need and in differing outcomes based on the location and type of rental properties involved. We believe that coordination to achieve comparable and relatively consistent treatment for property owners and renters across North Carolina is necessary and desirable.
- Transparency Matters
We believe that the amount of relief available under the recent federal authorization, while welcome, will not be enough to stem the tide of evictions as the vaccination program hits full stride and the economy recovers. For policy makers to determine whether and how to continue rental support, we believe that periodic public reports of progress in the distribution of relief is crucial. Measuring performance – good and bad – and highlighting shortfalls in resources will assist policy makers and provide a basis for public trust and confidence in the process.
- Market Acceptance will be Critical
To serve the maximum number of property owners and renters, the program rules should tie payments to actual rental rates by location and number of bedrooms provided.
Given the foregoing, we urge you to adapt the distribution infrastructure already in place to distribute the recently allocated funds. With some policy and programmatic oversight, the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency has the capacity, experience, and infrastructure necessary to achieve the objectives noted above and to coordinate with counties that received their own distribution of dollars to achieve a more consistent result across North Carolina. While the members of the Working Group do not agree on every issue related to evictions, there is uniform agreement that policy makers should not “reinvent the wheel.”
As people who have, in a variety of contexts, directed large undertakings, the members of the Working Group understand how difficult management of the various interventions required to address the Covid-19 pandemic, restarting businesses and schools, and staving off evictions must be. We hope that this letter is helpful to you in the last of those endeavors and stand ready to assist you, individually or as a group, should you wish.
Thank you for all you do.
Joseph A. Smith, Jr., Senior Fellow, Global Financial Markets Center
Lee Reiners, Executive Director, Global Financial Markets Center
Jesse McCoy II, Senior Lecturing Fellow and Supervising Attorney, Civil Justice Clinic, Duke Law School
Mark Goldhaber, Goldhaber Policy Services
Anthony Scott, Chief Executive Officer, Durham Housing Authority
Jennings Snider, President, Apartment Association of North Carolina
Rick Glazier, Executive Director, NC Justice Center
Steve Powel, Executive Chairman, SitusAMC
Bill Rowe, General Counsel and Deputy Director of Advocacy, NC Justice Center