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NC’s pandemic rent aid program to close applications as federal funds will soon lapse

North Carolina’s emergency pandemic rental aid program will stop accepting applications on Friday as its federal funding will soon lapse.

Applications for the Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions program, or HOPE, will close Friday at 6 p.m.

“The applications that we received by 6 p.m. will fully obligate the funding that we have for the whole program,” said Laura Hogshead, head of the N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency, which operates HOPE.

The HOPE program, which was created to assist tenants financially burdened by COVID-19, has given hundreds of millions of dollars to renters in need, over 151,000 households since the program started a year ago. Each household received an average of about $3,500 in rent assistance.

During its first phase last fall, with federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ACT, or CARES, the program administered $133 million.

After that funding lapsed in November 2020, the program didn’t accept applications again until this past May with $396 million in funding from the federal COVID stimulus passed last December, a year ago.

In August, the HOPE program had only spent 22% of that amount, The News & Observer reported at the time, though that was still more spent than both the national rate and local municipalities in North Carolina that operate their own programs.

But since then, HOPE rapidly spent the rest of the $396 million and is now nearing full expenditure of the additional $372 million it was allocated in the American Rescue Plan, another COVID stimulus that Congress passed in March. Though $15 million of that funding was spent on eviction diversion programs and another 5% was spent on administrative costs.

“We’ve just seen a tremendous volume increase since Thanksgiving, which is pushing us to close sooner than we anticipated,” Hogshead said.

The HOPE program is the fifth fastest statewide program in the country. Just two other states have closed their programs — Oregon and Texas — though a few others are considering closing applications soon.

More need for aid

Of the over 151,000 households assisted over the past year, NCORR officials found that the average household annual income was just $13,000. Hogshead said this was eye-opening and speaks to the level of need in the state.

“This is not just pandemic-related, right? These were folks that were struggling before the pandemic that are going to continue to need assistance after the pandemic,” she said.

Hogshead said that as funding is set lapse on the HOPE program, the state needs to shift to longer term solutions to address housing insecurity.

“This is not a situation that’s going to go away when COVID is gone. This is a level of housing insecurity that needs to be addressed by the building of more affordable housing, by more housing vouchers. These folks have a need that is not completely going to disappear when the pandemic is done,” she said.

For renters in the Triangle, the HOPE program does not cover many counties in the region. Populous counties have their own programs.

Wake County is still accepting applications at housewake.org. Those in Johnston County can apply at rentrelief.com/johnstoncounty.

Durham County stopped accepting applications in October due to an overload of applicants, The News & Observer reported.

The HOPE program covers 88 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, including Orange.

Who is eligible?

Tenants are eligible for any of the programs if they rent at the place they live, have been late on rent at some point since April 1, 2020, have faced homelessness or eviction, or have lost income or experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Eligible renter households must also have an income of 80% or less of the area median income, or AMI. Renters can find the AMI where they live at huduser.gov/portal/datasets/il.html#2021_query.

How to apply?

Tenants have until 6 p.m. Friday to apply for the HOPE program online at hope.nc.gov.

There’s also a call center that operates Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. That center can be reached at (888) 927-5467.

Help us cover your community through The News & Observer’s partnership with Report For America. Contribute now to help fund reporting on housing affordability in the Triangle, and to support new reporters.

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Ben Sessoms covers housing and COVID-19 in the Triangle for the News & Observer through Report for America. He was raised in Kinston and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2019.



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