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Help available again for Durham residents to pay rent and utility bills during COVID

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There’s still COVID-19 federal relief money available to help renters avoid evictions. Photo from an eviction notice served on July 14, 2021, in Columbus, Ga.

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Durham renters struggling to pay bills during the pandemic can apply for aid again, after the county’s Department of Social Services stopped taking applications last fall.

The city announced Tuesday it will launch the second round of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), with Legal Aid of North Carolina administering the aid.

The program was paused after social services stopped taking applications in October. The agency had to focus on reducing a backlog of applications after the federal eviction moratorium ended in August.

Reginald Johnson, director of Durham’s Community Development Department, said the site is now live. This latest round of funding provides up to 18 months of rent and utility assistance to Durham residents who have experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city and Durham County have received about $30 million from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the N.C. Pandemic Recovery Office for rental assistance.

The program does not guarantee that tenants can remain in their homes.

In some cases, renters have been approved for assistance but their landlords have not accepted the money, resulting in some tenants now facing evictions.

Public Information Officer Pam Purifoy said DSS has about 675 applications still being reviewed and $4.7 million left to cover the county’s remaining applications.

DSS had approved a total 3,400 applications and has made roughly $18.4 million in payments, she said.

The payments were previously made electronically or by check after the parties signed a Landlord and Tenant Agreement stating the amount that is owed for rent, utilities and late fees.

Money can now go to tenants if landlords won’t take it directly, but the city is trying to keep paying landlords to make sure the money is used correctly.

Residents of public housing, renters receiving rental assistance and renters with housing vouchers are “strongly encouraged” to apply, Johnson said.

“Applicants should keep in mind that there cannot be a duplication of benefits,” Johnson said. “So residents cannot apply for funding under the county’s program for the same months that they apply for our program.”

Renters and landlords can apply at durhamrentrelief.org on a first-come, first-served basis until funding runs out.

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