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South Carolina's post-moratorium eviction wave hasn't quite materialized, but there's more to it than that

Money to pay rents gone uncollected because of the pandemic is starting to get out faster. But only where it's available.
Money to pay rents gone uncollected because of the pandemic is starting to get out faster. But only where it's available.

This story is part of South Carolina Public Radio's continuing look at the federal eviction moratorium.

Lancaster County caught a kind of break. It is one of the counties eligible to tap into the $272 million pool of rental assistance money available through the SC Stay Plus program.

To date, according to SC Housing, which administers SC Stay Plus funds, Lancaster County has received a little north of $1 million, which has helped 287 households settle rent balances left unpaid because of a pandemic-related setback.

Statewide, those numbers increase to about $30 million and 5,000-plus households, with another $4 million in assistance approved that will be distributed soon, according to SC Housing.

That takes a lot of pressure off social services agencies like HOPE In Lancaster, which, says acting executive director Susan Dolphin, is designed to be “a bridge” and not “a whole building” for residents in financial need. Dolphin says distressed tenants who were several months behind on paying rent would sometimes need thousands of dollars. If HOPE could provide some of it, maybe work out a deal with the local landlords, it did.

But the agency was not designed for that.

So SC Stay Plus funds getting to Lancaster’s landlords – who Dolphin and Amber Jackson, executive director of the United Way of Lancaster, take great pains to portray as businesspeople who’ve suffered financial issues from a disruption to their incomes – has staved off what could be a catastrophe.

Jackson also credits a combination of media awareness and in-house education, both by her own agency and by SC Housing reps who came to Lancaster to teach tenants how to apply for funding, with assisting the save.

Lancaster’s break is relative, of course. Its social services agencies are still seeing housing-insecure tenants (and more families than ever) come in for help. There’s just not been a sharp increase in clients, as was feared when the moratorium protecting tenants from eviction were pulled at the end of August.

Lancaster’s break is also that it isn’t one of the seven counties (Anderson, Berkeley, Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Richland, and Spartanburg) that received their own dedicated pool of rental assistance money from the federal government. Funds in those counties are starting to run dry.

In some, like Richland County, the funds already have.

Lila anna Sauls, president and CEO of Homeless No More in Columbia says that now that Richland’s rental assistance money has been exhausted, for any residents “not in the system, those funds are gone.”

Because Richland County had its own funds for rental assistance, county residents and landlords cannot tap into SC Stay Plus. The U.S. Treasury would need to reallocate money or refresh the county’s fund before residents could get rental assistance.

In the meantime, Sauls is seeing an uptick in evictees, and many of them coming to Homeless No More’s shelter as families. It’s not quite the tsunami of displaced residents feared just a few months ago, but it is enough to keep the shelter maxed.

Need rental assistance help? CLICK HERE to learn more about SC Stay Plus and other programs. CLICK HERE TOO if you’re in Columbia

Want to hear about what Lancaster was so concerned about to begin with? ‘The Eviction Crisis, As Seen Through Lancaster's Social Services Agencies’

Or click on the following links for South Carolina Public Radio’s continuing coverage of the eviction moratorium and its issues:

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.