Even with moratorium, thousands in NC face eviction - Mount Airy News

Even with moratorium, thousands in NC face eviction - Mount Airy News

Even with moratorium, thousands in NC face eviction - Mount Airy News

Posted: 20 Nov 2020 08:57 AM PST

At 9:40 a.m. on Sept. 30, Mecklenburg County sheriff's deputies showed up at Leegraciea Lewis' apartment door. Lewis hadn't changed into her day clothes yet.

The sheriff came to my house and said he was going to evict me," said Lewis. "I said, 'For what?'"

Deputies told her to get dressed and to come with them. They had a court order that she had to leave the Landing at Steele Creek Apartments in Charlotte.

"I said, 'I'm not going to leave my home! This is the only place I have left to go!'" Lewis said.

Despite her protests, Lewis was evicted that day. Not knowing anywhere else to turn, she checked in to an extended stay hotel. As of Tuesday, she was still there, though she feared her funds would soon run out and she would be left without a place to turn.

She's not alone.

From July through September, almost 25,000 eviction cases have been filed statewide according to data from the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts. Almost 15,000 have been granted.

But that doesn't tell the whole story. In those same three months of 2019, well before the pandemic hit, when the economy was still strong, the courts logged almost 50,000 initial eviction filings.

But housing advocates say just because eviction proceedings aren't making it to the courts, that doesn't mean people aren't being forced out of their homes. It's just happening under the radar or will come through the court system soon.

"Everything is still wide open," said Peter Gilbert, a staff attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina who works with clients facing eviction. "Eviction filings are down. But there are a large number of people who are under the threat of eviction."

An analysis of past-due rent prepared for the National Council of State Housing Agencies by Stout, a global investment bank and advisory firm, estimates that between 300,000 and 410,000 North Carolina households are unable to pay rent and are at risk of eviction. The report estimates some 240,000 total eviction filings by January and that the estimated rental shortfall could exceed $800 million.

Some landlords simply tell tenants they have to leave, and since tenants know they haven't paid rent, they go, without knowing what protections are in place. In some cases, landlords leave broken appliances unfixed or have been unresponsive to tenant complaints to the point that tenants simply leave.

In North Carolina, the only legal process for eviction is through the courts, and these methods to push tenants out are not permitted.

"I speak to tenants all the time who are weighing whether to move out of their homes because the landlord never responds to repair requests," said Bennett Heine, a volunteer with Bull City Tenants United, a group working to end evictions in Durham.

"The data may not call it an eviction, but when you move out because the landlord hasn't promptly responded to a repair request in months, because your apartment always floods when it rains, or because you have mold blackening entire walls — that's an eviction. It happens all the time and is a strategy landlords use to illegally force tenants out."

That's not to say all landlords simply try to get rid of tenants.

"Our members are going above and beyond to work with tenants," said Dustin Engelken, the Triangle Apartment Association's government affairs director. "They have been from the beginning. That was true before the eviction moratoriums, it will be true after."

Given the option, most landlords would prefer to have tenants in their units. An eviction means an empty unit that doesn't generate revenue. Tenant rights advocates agree, noting most landlords carry mortgages on their properties and have their own bills to pay.

That's why — in many cases — legitimate landlords and well-meaning tenants are actually on the same side during the pandemic. They say the solution is simple: money. The government needs to step in with rental assistance programs.

"We've been advocating strenuously for rental assistance from the very beginning," Engelken said.

"People were given a $1,200 stimulus at the beginning of the summer and told to fend for themselves. Here in the Triangle, that's an average (month's) rent for a two-bedroom. So best-case scenario, you got one month of rent out of that, and then you're on your own. So, no; there hasn't been enough. And we certainly are going to need more."

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evictions moratorium began Sept. 4. It's possible Lewis would have qualified, though court proceedings for her eviction began in August 2019, before the pandemic.

Various state and federal eviction moratoriums went into effect early on in the pandemic, slowing the eviction rate. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act passed by Congress provided some relief to landlords of some multifamily properties, granting them temporary relief from making mortgage payments, but they had to agree to halt most evictions.

A typical month sees about 15,000 initial eviction filings across North Carolina. That dropped to fewer than 4,000 per month from March through June.

This story was jointly reported and edited by Kate Martin, Laura Lee and Frank Taylor of Carolina Public Press; Lucille Sherman and Jordan Schrader of The News & Observer; Nick Ochsner of WBTV; Emily Featherston of WECT; Travis Fain of WRAL; and Celeste Gracia, Caitlin Leggett and Jason deBruyn of WUNC-TV.

Late singer lives on in new mural - Mount Airy News

Posted: 20 Nov 2020 07:56 AM PST

Melva Houston died in May, but in a sense she still lives on through a recently completed — and extremely lifelike — mural of the beloved local singer which graces a wall in downtown Mount Airy.

"Breathtaking" was among the words Traci Haynes George used to describe her first reaction upon the seeing the finished product, as a member of a committee pursuing plans for the area involved, known as "Melva's Alley."

"That's something like you see in Manhattan," George added Thursday. "And it's here in Mayberry."

Plans for Melva's Alley — and its mural centerpiece — arose in conjunction with the designation of an entertainment district along nearby Market Street downtown. It has become an outdoors venue for live music, dining, beer and wine and arts displays during weekends in recent months.

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners approved on Aug. 6 an effort led by the group Mount Airy Downtown Inc. to convert a small vehicular alleyway beside Thirsty Souls Community Brewing on Market Street into a permanent pedestrian area honoring Houston.

She lost a long battle with lung cancer on May 14 at age 70, leaving behind a body of work as an internationally known entertainer who had performed with such musical giants as Isaac Hayes.

Though the veteran vocalist hailed from Memphis, Tennessee, she had adopted Mount Airy as her home, living here for more than 40 years and being the force behind a free community Thanksgiving meal from 1996 to 2014.

When the alleyway project was launched, it was described by Main Street Coordinator Lizzie Morrison of the downtown group as a way to honor Houston's legacy and "be a place that inspires community and creativity, just as Melva did."

This has involved seeking funding from the public for the project, which in addition to the mural are features still to be added.

These include lighting to help accentuate the artwork and surrounding area, seating, plantings and a small granite performance stage (similar to Canteen Alley, located elsewhere downtown).

Also eyed are a neon "Melva's Alley" sign, a decorative gate in back and wall cleanup/painting for the other side of the alleyway, all part of what Morrison says will provide a pocket performance venue in Houston's memory.

Artist praised

The work on the mural component recently completed is drawing rave reviews from passersby and project organizers.

"It is truly so beautiful," the Main Street coordinator commented regarding the creation by an artist known only as "Jeks," who is based in Greensboro.

Morrison considers him "phenomenal" at graffiti and photo realism, the form incorporated in the Melva mural, despite being self-taught with only three years of experience in photo-realism portraiture.

"I am still picking my jaw up off the floor from watching Jeks knock out this beautiful mural of Melva Houston in less than a week."

Haynes said Thursday she also monitored the progress of the image, seeing it take shape over the course of about seven days as Jeks spray-painted it by hand, calling the outcome "remarkable."

"Jeks has amazing talent to capture the essence of Melva in such a beautiful way," Morrison mentioned in assessing his ability.

"This project honors her so well," she continued. "Melva's Alley will breathe new music and life into our community — it will be a performance space continuing her musical legacy. Melva will be a symbol of beauty for the next generation in Mount Airy."

Morrison says it has been an honor to be a part of the effort alongside family members and friends of Houston who are on the alleyway committee.

In addition to Traci Haynes George, they include Micol Clark, Donna Jackson, Kini Snow, Jackie Haynes, Mary Boyles, Andi Schnuck, Ann Vaughn, Polly Long and Teresa Levia.

Fundraising continues

Meanwhile, funds are still being sought for the full alleyway project toward a $30,000 goal that was announced in August.

Morrison reported earlier this week that private donations total $17,096 so far, including $1,480 recently received.

In addition to private funding, Mount Airy Downtown Inc. has contributed $2,000 from a Facade Grant Program of that organization and $2,000 from its Mural Grant Program to support the Melva Houston project.

Both of those programs are funded by Municipal Service District revenues, which come from a special tax paid by property owners in the central business district in addition to regular city taxes. The MSD money goes toward projects for the common good downtown.

The Main Street coordinator noted this week that organizers hope another $10,520 can be generated to put the campaign over the top and complete the project.

Contributions can be made for the Melva's Alley project through the Gofundme website at https://gf.me/u/yrv7q9 or sent in the form of a check with "Melva's Alley" or "Melva Houston" in the subject line to Mount Airy Downtown Inc., P.O. Box 6309, Mount Airy, NC, 27030.

Morrison is grateful to those giving so far, pointing out that a small-scale effort largely has been involved with many donations in the $5 to $20 range, with no sum too tiny.

"I think it is safe to say that 200 to 300 different people have donated to this project — it is truly a community-supported grassroots effort."

Morrison says special thanks are due to Thirsty Souls Community Brewing, Horizon Equipment Rentals and Cooke Rentals for contributing to the project and various musicians who've donated their time and talents to help raise funds for Melva's Alley.

"Mount Airy Downtown Inc. is proud to partner with all of you to make this amazing project happen."

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.


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