GREENSBORO — Those affected by the coronavirus pandemic have gotten some help with paying bills, but as federal aid and moratoriums on evictions come to an end, many will face not having a home.
No more is that evident than in East Greensboro, where predominantly African American low-income neighborhoods have been struggling for decades.
A group of seven housing, economic and health panelists shared concerns over what COVID-19 is doing to residents of East Greensboro during a public meeting Thursday night on Zoom.
“There is a wave of evictions coming,” said Stephen Sills, who, as head of the UNCG Center for Housing and Community Studies, manages an extensive program that uses statistics to influence policy on housing issues.
He said while wages have risen only 5% in the past decade, the cost of housing has risen 55%. He said 27,000 households in Greensboro were spending 30% of their income on essentials before COVID-19. Now that the pandemic has reduced wages, as well as cost jobs, people are finding it increasingly hard to pay their rent
“A single month without pay means eviction,” Sills said.
Sills said The Eviction LAB, a Princeton University organization that tracks eviction data, puts Greensboro at No. 7 for the highest rate of evictions in the country and No. 1 for the state.
“The rate in South and Southeast Greensboro is much higher than anywhere else,” Sills said.
He said 30,000 people in the city have lost their jobs and will struggle to pay rent.
“We’re in a very precarious position,” Sills said.
UNCG Center for Housing and Community Studies, along with the Greensboro Housing Coalition and Legal Aid of NC, created the Eviction Resolution Project, a program that provides legal assistance, and in some cases emergency funds, to tenants.
Josie Williams, the new director for the Greensboro Housing Coalition, which helps people find affordable housing, said evictions were on the rise before the pandemic.
“COVID-19 is exacerbating those issues,” Williams said.
She said her agency received nearly 500 calls last week for people seeking assistance with eviction or finding housing. She has helped some through the Eviction Resolution Project.
“GHC has the capability to do something immediately, but we need to go a step further,” Williams said.
She would like to see federal COVID-19 funding used to help anyone facing housing challenges.
“It’s important that we leverage resources. That we collaboratively partner to fill in those gaps,” Williams said.
She said partnerships with UNCG and Legal Aid can help those facing eviction, whether it is because of a situation they were in before the pandemic or from COVID-19 fallout.
“If a person is in danger of eviction, they can contact GHC or come in through Legal Aid. GHC will assess whether that person is impacted by COVID or if it’s a situation that existed before,” Williams said.
GHC can help get emergency rental assistance if someone qualifies, or, in more complicated scenarios, get free legal assistance from an attorney at Legal Aid.
Williams would also like to see more flexibility with the court system. She said her agency can’t help pay a person’s rent bond because the clerk of court only accepts cash. GHC would like to be able to pay the bond with a certified check.
Meanwhile, as the unemployment rate climbs amid fallout from the pandemic, Guilford Workforce Development Board can work with people and businesses in East Greensboro to provide skills training and connect people to jobs, said the agency’s director, Chris Rivera.
“Nearly 40,000 residents in our county have filed for unemployment,” Rivera said.
Jobs hit hardest are in retail, hospitality and tourism.
Rivera said the benefits that were created by Congress to get people through the pandemic are coming to an end soon. He urged laid off workers to start thinking about the next step.
“Now is the time to secure employment, invest in yourself or enhance your skills,” he said.
Guilford Workforce Development is offering free online skills training on its website. A learning platform called Coursera offers professional certificate training for jobs like medical assistants and machinists. The website also offers additional information for those seeking training and jobs.
“We can get them connected to resources,” Rivera said.
For East Greensboro businesses that are struggling to stay afloat, Assistant City Manager Chris Wilson said there is help available to them as well.
“During the COVID crisis, we have been reaching out to various community groups on how to best support small businesses,” he said.
Wilson said the city’s website has a small business and nonprofit resource guide that lists grants and funding resources.
“Many of these grants are targeted to struggling businesses,” Wilson said.
Wilson said if a grant becomes unavailable it may later have funds renewed. He urged users to check the site frequently as the list is updated daily.
The site also has information, such as locations where meals are available, to support those dealing with food insecurity.
Because of underlying health conditions of low-income people, they are at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19. Other panelists urged those in low-income communities to seek the psychological and medical resources of agencies like Phoenix Rising Psychological Services and Mustard Seed health clinic.
Free community COVID-19 testing sites are scheduled in the upcoming weeks.
Triad Adult and Pediatric Medicine provides a list of community outreach testing sites at www.tapmedicine.com.