America's health crisis -- now a housing crisis.
It's a tale of haves and have-nots during a pandemic.
Housing hardships have reached unprecedented heights during COVID-19.
A wave of job losses and looming evictions have left families already living paycheck to paycheck on the verge of homelessness.
The affordable housing crunch is yet another pandemic in the community.
And if you're looking to buy a house -- get in line!
First-time home buyers are trying to escape the rental rut but are struggling to find their dream home in a hot housing market.
The housing crisis is not new, but with unemployment at historic highs, it's only getting worse.
In Wake County, a population boom has also contributed to a lack of affordable housing.
In the last 20 years, the population has nearly doubled from 633,000 to 1.1 million.
And that's not the only reason the housing supply is so low. The U.S. has has an afforadble housing shortage for more than a decade.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING... "AFFORDABLE TO WHO?"
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"Everyone should be able to afford where they live," says Samuel Gunter, executive director for the North Carolina Housing Coalition. "The challenge that we have, though, is the further you go down the income spectrum, the harder it is to find housing at those income ranges."
According to the coalition's own data, which Gunter admits is dated from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 the average price of a "modest" two-bedroom apartment in Wake County was $ 1,026 a month. A family would have needed to earn an income of $41,040 a year to qualify. However, at the time the data was made available, the average renter could only afford $856 per month.
He said families often struggle what they choose to financially handle first, which usually translates to an emphasis placed on housing.
"Then you throw hurricane on top of hurricane on top of pandemic on top of that," Gunter said, "it is profoundly difficult for a number of families across the state."
Cary resident Christina Beltran, knows all too well. The mother of two girls -- ages 3 and 11 -- is a bartender who lost her job in March after it shut down due to the pandemic. She applied for unemployment assistance and waited months before being approved in early August.
She was recently evicted after falling behind on her rent.
"I missed being covered by the executive order and the CARES Act by a minimum of 2 days," Beltran said. "Waking up to being evicted, thinking the court was closed."
Beltran thought Chief Justice Cheri Beasley closed all court proceedings -- which included Beltran's case.
"I would never allow my children to be homeless," she said.
A sheriff's deputy showed up at the family's home in Cary while her oldest was in between virtual classes for school.
"(My daughter) literally couldn't believe it," said Beltran. "She was like mommy, 'we're homeless.'"
While Beltran looks for another place to stay, her stimulus money was used to catch up on outstanding utilities, her oldest daughter went to live with her father, and Beltran, along with her 3-year-old, moved to stay with family. Her youngest battles a respiratory issue that puts her at risk for COVID-19 complications.
"I'm sleeping in the grandkid's room on a twin bed," Beltran said. "My girls don't see me cry. In their eyes, I'm a super mom."
Beltran's current challenge is finding a place for her family to live with an eviction on her record and low rental inventory. She's since depleted her savings trying to stay afloat.
"I'm unemployed, my credit's ruined now. It's terrible! I didn't choose this. I didn't choose to go months without receiving income," she said.
"I think you talk to any family that has experienced homelessness, that has experienced eviction, it is a large set of circumstances that have led folks to that point," Gunter said. "And once you get to that point, there are no good options."
For families who are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their budget on housing, those decisions have a lasting impact. Severely cost-burdened families find themselves paying more than half.
And if there is an eviction on your record, that makes matters much worse.
"In a hot rental market where there's 30 people lining up for property... why would somebody want to rent to you?" Gunter asked. "It pushes you in worse and worse housing, neighborhood safety, access to schools, all of those things built off where you live."
"The affordable housing crisis would be solved if we all came to an understanding that all of us deserve a safe, decent, affordable place to live," Gunter said. "Because if we truly had that value, we'd figure that out."
ON THE VERGE OF HOMELESSNESS
-Wake County launches hotline to help people at risk for homelessness
A HOUSING BOOM... BUT SOME ARE LEFT OUT
If you ask anyone searching for a house in central North Carolina, they will likely tell you the same thing as Zachary Horowitz.
"The market has been pretty crazy," he says. "There's not a lot of homes on the market."
Even with a mom, Stacey, who has been a real estate agent for 20 years, Zachary still searched for six months to find his first home.
"One of the houses I put an offer in on, I was was one of twelve," he said. "I was having looking around for the past six months, and put in two offers on two different houses -- one with a strong offer -- but lost to all-cash offers."
"It doesn't matter if they're first time home buyers or people moving up," Stacey said. "The market is really competitive."
According to the Triangle MLS, inventory is significantly down. In July 2019, there were 9,108 homes listed on the market. In July 2020, the number dropped 44.4% to 5,740.
READ THE FULL STORY FROM AMBER RUPINTA HERE.
When we asked to meet Amber McLee at her home in Raleigh near Crabtree Valley Mall, it meant a low-budget motel tucked away between shopping centers, restaurants and offices just off Glenwood Avenue.
It's home for Amber, her husband, two teenage sons, a 5-year-old, an 8-year-old and their newborn baby -- sleeping three to a bed, sharing one bathroom, cooking breakfast on the dresser. Almost everything they own is stuffed into those four walls.
"I'm not sure I could find a word to summarize" what it's like sharing one room with seven people, Amber said.
When people make less money or lose their paycheck altogether, homelessness becomes a real possibility. Even before the pandemic, North Carolina averaged about 170 evictions per day -- more than twice the national average. And as many as 40 million Americans are at risk of being evicted because of COVID-19.
Amber and her family have been on the verge of homelessness since 2018.
After an eviction, they spent five weeks in a shelter until they were finally forced into the motel.
Amber and her husband worked in food service until COVID-19 hit. Both of them were furloughed.
Now, while Amber watches the kids, her husband works two, sometimes three jobs, to pay the
$2,000-a-month motel bill. She says local landlords have been unwilling to take a chance on the family's shaky finances.
"We have the money to pay for a place, but we have an eviction," she said. "It's fast to lose everything and it takes five times as long to crawl out of the hole that you've been kicked in in life."
"What COVID has done is just exacerbate all the issues and brought to light all the issues," Seth Friedman, CEO of Passage Home, Wake County's anti-poverty organization, said.
Amber told us she's tried numerous state, local agencies and non-profits for help -- nothing so far.
"It's really tough," Friedman said. "I think the City of Raleigh did a wonderful thing. They did a thing called the Compassion Fund."
It's $25,000 in seed money from Raleigh City Council to help local families living in motels cover first month's rent and security deposits in new rental housing.
Passage Home helps find eligible families for the fund. But on its own, Friedman says the organization spent more than $750,000 last year helping their clients pay rent and utility bills.
"We work with all of them. It's very rare that we get a client with perfect credit, with no evictions. We encourage them to call us because what we provide is some level of guarantee to their landlord."
Back at the motel, Amber and her husband were able to secure a second room to give some extra space and privacy for their teenage sons. The financial squeeze is as tight as ever as the family works for and holds out hope for a lifeline.
"Even though some may look down on this place, there are worse situations," she said. "I just try to be appreciative of where I am."
BUYING A HOME IN A PANDEMIC
"Being able to find a home that we love, in our hometown, close to our family, not super, super close but close enough to where we can have Sunday dinners and hang out on a random Tuesday night or with our cousins. It’s been amazing."
COVID-19 has caused many challenges but some people have still been able to find their dream home. The Princes started looking in April and closed on a house at the end of May in Holly Springs. Here are some of their takeaways:
AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROGRAM A "DREAM COME TRUE" FOR SOME
COVID-19 pandemic deals another blow to homeless Cary family
It took City of Raleigh officials more than 10 years to acquire about eight city blocks of land off New Bern Avenue -- proof that the East College Park project has been a major undertaking.
Dylan Prevette now owns prime "Inside the Beltline" real estate.
"It's been a dream come true. It's been pretty great," he said.
Prevette and his wife moved into their home just two months ago.
"I would have never thought 5 years ago I would be able to own a house downtown," he said.
Sixty percent of the homes are being reserved for income-restricted buyers, as defined by HUD guidelines. There are no restrictions on the remaining 40 percent.
"The neighborhood getting more vibrant. You see young families with kids walking the dogs," said Raleigh Construction Program Manager Hillary Leacock.
There will be four sites and the city is expecting the units to go quickly.
Homeownership under the program comes with a big cavait -- they're required to hold onto the property for a decade. If people sell before then, they'll owe the city profits from the sale.
The percentage amount goes down every year from the date of purchase.
Officials are trying to avoid flips or landlords purchasing for rental properties.
Prevette said that 10-year commitment was something he and his wife debated for a while but they decided to devote ther time and money into the community.
"The people that are here, stay here," he said. "It's definitely worth it. I love that the city would even do something like this."
Raleigh is partnering with four builders to develop a total of 98 single-family homes and 51 townhome units.
"It's fast to lose everything and it takes five times as long to crawl out of the hole that you've been kicked in in life."
-Passage Home, Inc.
"I'm unemployed, my credit's ruined now. It's terrible! I didn't choose this. I didn't choose to go months without receiving income."
Spike in mortgage delinquencies worries local housing advocates
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"The affordable housing crisis would be solved if we all came to an understanding that all of us deserve a safe, decent, affordable place to live."
"I have been walking this tight rope, teetering for the last two years. The weight is indescribable. You beat yourself up a lot when you think you're failing your kids."