Eviction protection extended as back rent grows

Updated: Dec. 22, 2020 at 6:38 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Congress has agreed to another round of pandemic relief measures in an omnibus, $900 billion bill. In addition to direct payments to individuals and a boost to unemployment benefits, it also extends the eviction moratorium until the end of January.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first enacted the eviction moratorium in September through the end of the year. It prevents landlords from evicting tenants because of inability to pay rent, but not for other reasons like lease violations. It also will not wipe out past-due rent, which means many people who lost their jobs will have a large bill by the time the moratorium is lifted.

Housing assistance is slated to receive $25 billion of which South Carolina is expected to receive $344 million, according to SC Housing Chief Research Officer Bryan Grady.

That money will be badly needed for the households facing evictions.

“There’s between 99,000 and 182,000 households in South Carolina that are at risk of eviction,” Grady said, referencing data pulled from Stout Risius Ross, a global advisory firm. “Considering that there’s only about 600,000 total, that represents a substantial share of the state’s renters. . .one in six low-wage workers are still out of work.”

Using $25 million from the last relief bill, SC Housing is putting together a program called SC Stay that could provide low-income applicants the financial means to stay in their homes. The program can provide assistance for up to six months. It can also help pay down back rent.

Grady says catching up on rent can be incredibly difficult, especially for low-income workers and those who had lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

“Even if they did get their jobs back, they may have been out of a job for two or three months and they don’t really have the means to make that money up,” Grady said. “There’s a lot of back rent. Certainly, it’s in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The program is not expected to launch until Feb. 15 after the moratorium is currently scheduled to end. SC Housing is working to find non-profits and governmental agencies that can help target the individuals and families who need the help the most.

East Cooper Community Outreach is one of those non-profit organizations hoping to dip into both current and new housing assistance money.

“The need is tremendous. We have seen since March it is continuously growing. The financial assistance for rent and mortgage is climbing and we are inundated with financial assistance requests,” said Nikki Lengyel, client navigation manager at ECCO. “We have assisted 196 households, that’s a total of 428 individuals.”

ECCO is already working to keep people in their homes. Lengyel says they have spent more than $320,000 since March helping folks.

“People are facing hardships that they never could have imagined. We have clients that use to donate that are now receiving help. It just goes to show everything can go full circle,” Lengyel said.

Rent that is not paid off by the end of the moratorium can be grounds for eviction. On top of that, landlords can still file eviction proceeding ahead of the lifting of the moratorium.

A full list of resources in the area can be found here.

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