Local News

Durham weighs boosting county's rental assistance effort

Posted February 19, 2021 7:57 p.m. EST

— The Durham City Council is considering whether to give $9.8 million in federal housing funds to the county to assist with programs to pay rent and utility bills for people struggling financially during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Durham County Department of Social Services has distributed nearly $7.7 million in aid through the state's Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions, or HOPE, program and community development block grants. Yet, officials said they've been overwhelmed by requests for help, estimating they need $50 million to $60 million to meet the need.

Brock Dunn said he's $4,000 in debt after his hours at a food service job were cut early in the pandemic and he later had to quit altogether to care for his grandmother after she was diagnosed with cancer.

"If she gets COVID, there’s without a doubt she wouldn’t make it," Dunn said.

He went on unemployment but called it a full-time job to get even that small amount of money every week.

"It’s a 55-minute hold. An hour goes by, [and] they never called me back. An hour and a half goes by, [and] they never call me back. I call again. This time, it’s a 25-minute hold," he said. "I got to the point where I was going to the food bank."

Durham City Councilwoman DeDreana Freeman said she wants to ensure the city's money will make it to those previously denied assistance before she casts her vote.

County officials said that out of 2,700 applicants for assistance, 1,800 were approved and eligible for the program.

"If we are adding our funds to this, that process needs to be really speedy," Freeman said. "You got to speed it up because folks are losing hope out there."

The City Council could decide to give the federal housing money to a nonprofit or other entity, but if the city gives it to the county's social services agency, the money would become available sometime during March.

Dunn said some help with his rent "would've helped tremendously," but he recognizes he's not the worst off.

"These people that have children, or they’re elderly, or they’re in way more need than me, it kind of chokes me up a little bit," he said. "No one should have to live like that."

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