Eviction Moratorium Series: The Warning Signs

We’ve been saying it for a while…a storm is coming.

“But how so?” you ask. “Isn’t the pandemic almost in the rear-view mirror now?”

Logic (and our longings for normalcy) would certainly support this view. But when you start looking harder at data, trends, and observations, you begin to see a different picture.

Back in March 2020, we all felt the huge tension between the need to be safe and the excruciating reality that inequalities in our country would mean that some of our neighbors would suffer more than they had to. Our entire community rallied with donations, much-needed supplies, and contactless volunteer support.

But the surge in “need” we expected never came. There was an increase in requests for shelter opportunities for the well-publicized resource of the Marriott hotel in RTP—particularly among the unsheltered. But it was not the surge. In the race to adjust services and keep everyone safe, it took a while to notice. We saw it first in our reports from the Community Café. How could it be that the numbers of meals served were down significantly? We knew we had reduced bed space for social distancing, but shouldn’t there be more people lined up for to-go meals if they were struggling financially?

It was extremely puzzling. But we noticed that the community was doing a LOT to help make life easier for their neighbors. Congregations were opening their own food pantries, and some groups were delivering groceries directly to neighborhoods. And most importantly, schools were feeding not only students who were learning remotely, but they were often providing groceries for the entire family. The need was there, but the need was being met for the most part. As people go back to pre-pandemic routines, some of that support is beginning to recede.

The next sign related to a delay in the surge? Fewer affordable housing options for client placement during the eviction moratorium period. Because Durham’s affordable housing options are so limited, many “new start” opportunities for a UMD client arise—unfortunately—when someone else is evicted or has to vacate a property. While evictions did not completely stop, the eviction moratorium was working. Households had some stability.

The good news: All of our combined efforts as a community, and with public policy, seem to have worked. The bad news: Durham has a typical eviction filing rate of 900-1,000 per month. While not all of those filings end in eviction, a backlog of 15+ months of households will suddenly become eligible for eviction—not in a cyclical wave—but in a compounded tsunami wave. And it will happen when many of us are not looking—while we are going back to “normal.”

The pandemic surge we expected in early Spring 2020 will hit in Summer 2021, and likely just in time for school to start back.