A woman wears a mask as she passes a grafitt message in Los Angeles in May 2020. (Image  via Getty Images) A looming eviction crisis.
A woman wears a mask as she passes a grafitt message in Los Angeles in May 2020. (Image via Getty Images)

Two NC Democratic lawmakers explain why they filed a bill to expunge records of evictions during the pandemic.

In May 2020, at the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic, more than 600,000 North Carolinians found themselves out of a job. 

The rate of unemployment claims filed in the state surged to nearly 13%.  Due to a global crisis out of their control, families across the state suddenly had little to no income—and no way to pay their bills.  While government moratoriums have delayed evictions during the pandemic, eventually landlords who have filed for evictions because of non-payment will be able to proceed with their cases, leaving families across the state at risk of losing housing.

Now, because of this economic uncertainty, we face a potential housing crisis if state leaders do not act to find solutions

That’s why we filed House Bill 618, a bill in the NC state legislature that would seal all eviction filings from March 10, 2020 through 90 days after the end of the ongoing statewide state of emergency. House Bill 618 provides a pathway for expunction for most eviction records.

This bill is our best shot to mitigate the eviction crisis that is sure to come because of the pandemic and a process that does not fairly account for long-term impact of evictions on tenants’ lives. This bill removes a significant barrier to accessing housing, giving families rebuilding their lives after COVID-19 one less thing to worry about.

Too Many Behind on Rent

In Durham County and Alamance counties alone, struggling renters needed millions each month to stay up to date on rent.  

Neither the state or local stakeholders, like our county governments and housing non-profits, had enough cash on hand to provide that much relief to those renters in May or in any other month of the year. At the time, renters and homeowners across North Carolina were in a similarly dire situation, owing a total of more than millions in past-due payments.

One year later, things in North Carolina are not substantially better. Coming into this year, a half million North Carolinians were behind on rent and nearly 3 million people were having trouble paying their household expenses.  Nearly 10% or over 300,000 renters in our state were at risk of eviction at the start of the year.

Over the past year, temporary measures—increases in unemployment benefits, rental and mortgage assistance funding, and federal and state eviction moratoriums—have kept a wave of mass evictions at bay for thousands of people. 

Soon, though, the state and federal moratoriums will end.  When they do, the patchwork measures left will not be enough to keep economically-vulnerable North Carolinians in stable housing. The result will be that thousands of families across North Carolina will not only lose their housing, but they will also have to search for housing with new evictions on their record.

Hard to Get a New Start

Evictions are public records that follow a person throughout their life, often making it more difficult to find safe, sustainable housing.  

Approximately 85% of landlords search for past evictions when considering a new rental applicant, a 2017 survey found.  If the majority of landlords rely on public records of evictions when they decide who to rent to, then tenants with eviction records are at greater risk of being denied a roof over their heads.  The heightened barrier to housing that public eviction records creates is especially unfair for those who are experiencing housing instability as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If we want North Carolinians negatively impacted by COVID-19 to have access to stable, safe, and affordable housing, we need to ensure they are not punished for COVID-related evictions. 

A deeper look into how the system of filing and adjudicating evictions operates reveals that, under most other circumstances, that process is far from fair.  

In most filed evictions, landlords are represented, but tenants are not. A 2015 study found the majority of eviction filings are against people of color, and more than 70% of filings result in a judgment against the tenant, resulting in the kind of disparate impact that we should want to correct through bold legislation. 

The stakes are high. Without pandemic evictions protections, we leave thousands of families across North Carolina at risk of chronic housing instability. 

House Bill 618 would not only protect these vulnerable tenants from imminent crisis, but promote security for families and their futures. 

Together, we can pass House Bill 618.