RALEIGH — A coalition of racial justice, housing, low-income, and conservation groups today sent a letter to N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper urging him to institute an immediate emergency moratorium on housing evictions and electricity, gas, and water shutoffs to prevent further infections and deaths from COVID-19.
With the end of Executive Order 171 (Assisting North Carolinians at Risk of Eviction) on Dec. 31, hundreds of thousands of people in North Carolina will again be faced with an increased risk of eviction. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of households are also at risk of utility shutoffs.
In November, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy shut off electricity to approximately 19,000 families across the state that couldn't pay their bills due to the economic crisis.
“Our state saw more than 15,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 300 deaths during the summer due to evictions after the state eviction moratorium expired. It is indisputable there is a direct linkage between shelter, utilities, and mitigating the contraction of COVID-19,” said La’Meshia Whittington, deputy director of Advance Carolina. “While the Centers for Disease Control extended its eviction moratorium through Jan. 31, we need our state leadership to be just as proactive by extending these protections to ensure the safety of all North Carolinians. We acknowledge the previous efforts of our state government to support our people, but we must go many steps further to save our people.”
The groups’ letter cites recent reports that illustrate the depth of the crisis and the severe impact on families struggling to pay their bills, as well as the significant racial disparities when it comes to evictions and utility shutoffs.
Nationally, one in four Black renters lives in a county where the Black eviction rate was more than double the white eviction rate.
From June 20 to Sept. 3, when no eviction moratorium was in place, evictions in North Carolina resulted in 15,690 additional coronavirus cases and 304 deaths.
As many as 410,000 households in the state are at risk of eviction and approximately 240,000 of them could receive eviction notices in January.
Compared to white households, Hispanic households were 15 times more likely to have their household [utilities] disconnected for the first time, since the beginning of the pandemic, and Black households were 6 times more likely.
“Access to stable housing is vital to staying safe during the pandemic and to ensuring a steady economic recovery,” said Pamela Atwood, Director of Housing Policy for the North Carolina Housing Coalition. “The utility protections we are asking for ensure people stay housed and are able to access utility services that are necessary for basic cooking, comfort, and health. Even with the anticipated relief funding for assistance programs — which still won’t be enough to cover the need that’s out there — people need extra time to be able to access those resources and at best they’ll only be able to catch up. The requested protections keep people from falling through the cracks and potential long-term financial devastation.”
While renters have, on paper, been protected from eviction since early September, legal service providers reported eviction filings continuing across the state as court clerks, landlords and their attorneys challenged or ignored the CDC moratorium.
Gov. Cooper's Executive Order 171 provided some needed clarity of the federal moratorium, but that order will expire on Dec. 31. Further, the governor’s moratorium on utility shutoffs expired on July 29. At that time, more than 1 million families across the state were behind on their utility (electric, gas, and water) bills, owing more than $225 million.
“In his original shutoff moratorium, Governor Cooper recognized that electricity, gas, and water services are essential to the health and safety of North Carolinians," said Rory McIlmoil, Senior Energy Analyst at Appalachian Voices. "Allowing that moratorium to expire put more than 1 million households at risk, and now we’re seeing the impact of that lack of protection, with tens of thousands of families suffering electricity, gas and water shutoffs in November, in the middle of a pandemic and with cold temperatures setting in. That is immoral.”
“We are entering the worst part of this pandemic, and despite the prospect of additional federal funding and protections, it’s imperative that Governor Cooper act to establish a moratorium on utility shutoffs and evictions so that we can be certain to keep all North Carolinians safe during these difficult times and do everything we can to protect the public’s health and slow the spread of the virus,” said Al Ripley, Director of the Consumer, Housing & Energy Project at the North Carolina Justice Center.