Rent aid is on the way. But for SC tenants facing eviction, it may come too late

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When Congress approved a second round of COVID-19 stimulus money at the end of December, housing advocates applauded it as an important step in getting people back on their feet.

But three months later, the $245 million in rental assistance allocated to South Carolina is still sitting in limbo. Many tenants are left wondering which will come first — help or an order to vacate their homes.

A bill authorizing the distribution of the federal relief money passed the S.C. House earlier this month and is now pending review by the Senate committee on finance.

The state will get millions more in rental assistance through the The American Rescue Plan Congress passed last week, but it is not yet clear when that money will become available.

With a nationwide eviction moratorium set to expire on March 31, advocates fear thousands of South Carolinians may lose their housing before they can receive aid that could help them catch up on back rent. The deadline for the moratorium has already been extended several times, and though it could be pushed back again, right now there is no guarantee.

Lila Anna Sauls, president and CEO of the Columbia based nonprofit, Homeless No More said most of the families who are counting on that rental assistance do not have a backup plan to pay off their debts.

“The people that are most affected work minimum-wage jobs,” she said. “If you’re already impoverished and you fall behind, it’s harder to rebound. Some never do.”

The Centers for Disease Control ordered the eviction moratorium in September to ensure that Americans struggling to pay for housing would have a safe place to quarantine. Still, that did not put a full stop on evictions. Analysis from The State and The Sun News found that inconsistent enforcement and confusion about the rules has caused some South Carolina renters to fall through the cracks.

Since the moratorium went into effect, according to court records at least 50,000 evictions have been filed across five of the state’s most populous counties — Richland, Lexington, Horry, Greenville and Charleston.

Though there’s no way to tell how many of those tenants will ultimately be forced to vacate their homes, data from the Census Bureau shows that many South Carolinians have serious concerns about losing housing. Nearly 53% of renters said they were very likely or somewhat likely to be forced to leave home due to eviction in the next two months.

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