Politics and bureaucracy made rental assistance disappear

Jacqueline Bartley was a single mother to two boys and one girl before the pandemic. After losing her job at American Airlines at 41, Jacqueline Bartley spent all her savings quickly and was months behind the $1,350-a month rent she had rented. She had never missed rent payments before that.

Politics and bureaucracy made rental assistance disappear

Bartley, a Durham resident, applied for the state's rental aid program. In January, she was awarded $8,100. After her landlord rejected her request to shorten her two-year lease, Bartley claims that her landlord denied her the money. To get the money, the program required that landlords honor leases.

The state launched a second program this month, which she also approved. She learned last week that her landlord had paid nearly $20,000 in back rent and three months' future payments. He also agreed to drop the eviction suit.

This news indicates that she will not be forced to leave her home once the federal expulsion moratorium ends on July 31. However, months of stress were caused by the uncertainty and waiting.

Bartley stated, "It's been crazy, especially when you have kids in school." It's been a random thing. Okay, will I have somewhere to go every month?

Millions of people have been in similar situations to Bartley's , facing possible eviction despite the bold promises made by governors to renters by Congress in March 2020.

National leaders of states set aside at most $2.6 billion from CARES Act's Coronavirus Relief Fund for struggling renters. However, more than $425 millions of that, or 16%, hadn't reached the pockets of tenants and landlords a year later, according to an investigation done by The Center for Public Integrity.

Anne Kat Alexander, project manager at Princeton University's Eviction Lab, said that it was "mind-boggling." "I knew there were issues, but that's an enormous amount of money not being disbursed in time."

North Carolina's Democratic Governor is a like many other state leaders. Roy Cooper promised to launch an ambitious program last fiscal year that would provide federal assistance in the tens of millions for unpaid rent.

It took months to set up, and it stopped accepting applications weeks after opening in October. This was due to the overwhelming demand. Many of the 20 non-profits that were designated to distribute the money had limited capacity and could not get it out quickly.

The state was then faced with the Republican-controlled Legislature taking over CARES Act spending in Jan. The state spent $133 million, far less than the $167 million promised by housing advocates.

"We knew that the money wouldn't be enough. Pamela Atwood (director of housing policy at North Carolina Housing Coalition) said that there were too many people in need of rental assistance. "It was difficult to roll out the first program, and it led to inefficiency."

In 2021, the federal government delivered tens of billions more in rental assistance to states, but it has been slow to disburse.

The first round of funding in 2020 was not without its problems. Politics played an important role as well. A handful of states, many of them led by Republicans, offered little or no assistance, and had a history of poor tenant protections.