Durham, NC

Community efforts mitigate displacement costs in the Triangle

The Triangle Tribune

The Green Chair volunteers preparing products for clients.Photo byMia Khatib/Tribune

By Mia Khatib


Eviction and displacement can cripple families more than financial means sometimes. Health, stability, and education are all threatened when high-income renters move in and push up housing prices.

But the Triangle has people looking out. In Durham, it’s Scott Holmes and his students at North Carolina Central University's Civil Litigation Clinic. They provide legal representation for people threatened with eviction and advocate for policy change.

Holmes, who is also co-director of NCCU’s Social Justice and Racial Equity Institute, said having a lawyer and being able to appeal an eviction decision makes a difference in tenants’ lives. He said they are often able to get the case dismissed or continued, work out a deal with the landlord, keep an eviction off someone’s record or even get tenant compensation from the landlord if the unit has habitability issues.

“Lawyers helping people with evictions generally are able to keep them in their homes or keep them housed in a way that, without a lawyer, they end up with a sheriff at their door ready to padlock them out within two weeks of the day they go to court for their eviction,” Holmes said.

To appeal a decision, a tenant has to pay an appeal bond, which is a prorated share of the remaining rent for that month, Holmes said, but this is often out of reach for those who are already financially strained.

Last year, Holmes’ students raised nearly $11,600 for a temporary appeal bond fund that helped 24 families who needed more time and assistance. They tracked what happened to these tenants, and the results showed only two cases ended in eviction, while 17 households stayed and five moved elsewhere. The 2022 report also noted that 172 months of housing was added, averaging eight months per household, 59% of the families obtained voluntary dismissals and 45% of the cases ended in a settlement or payment agreement.

Kenton Spencer, a 2023 Juris Doctorate candidate who worked on the report, argues that it proves the value of the fund and legal representation as a whole. “Yes, we’ve expended this amount, but we saved in regards to additional services that these families, individuals may have needed from social services and other community partners,” Spencer said. “And those are things that are more difficult to quantify, but those are cost savings that do exist.”

The next step, he said, is to fundraise and replenish the fund, and find a community partner to help manage and distribute it on a larger scale. Holmes and his students are also advocating for a right to counsel for eviction cases and urging local and state government to fund defense attorneys for these tenants.

Eviction records can also prevent people from securing housing elsewhere or disqualify them from receiving federal housing benefits, which, Holmes said, can result in “hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost housing benefits.” He also said evictions can be hard for children who may have to miss or change schools because they no longer live in the district they were assigned.

The Green Chair Project, a Raleigh nonprofit, provides furniture, and other essential household items to low-income families that have experienced displacement, poverty or other forms of instability and are working to get back on their feet.

Chief executive officer Jackie Craig said clients are referred to them through trusted community partners, nonprofit rehousing agencies, and the local school system. And, while they primarily serve Wake County, they still help clients recommended by their partners in surrounding counties.

“Very few people have thousands of dollars in their back pocket to go out and buy furniture and essential things like a bed to sleep in… or even have the money to be able to afford pots and pans so they can cook a meal at home rather than eat out fast food,” she said. “Having a well-equipped home not only helps them economically sustain their housing but also is the key to good health.

“(The) Need is huge, and we’re serving in a week today what we used to serve in a month before COVID,” she said. “We furnished 1,074 households in 2022, and we provided about 2,000 children with beds of their own.”

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The Triangle Tribune is a part of The Charlotte Post Publishing Company. We are a multimedia conglomerate that covers the Triangle's African American community in community news, business, HBCU sports, health, and arts and lifestyle since March 1998.

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