Featured photo: Keep Gate City Housed launch party on April 7. (Photo by Gale Melcher)

A group fighting evictions in Guilford County made their way to Greensboro’s city council on May 7.

Keep Gate City Housed is a group pushing for funding for TEAM, or Tenant Education Advocacy Mediation, a group that operates out of UNCG and works directly with people facing eviction. Members of TEAM set up tables outside the small claims eviction courts in Guilford County and High Point, providing legal representation, mediation services and help with rental assistance applications. Currently, they can only afford to do this a couple days per week.

That’s why Keep Gate City Housed wants the city to make sure that they include $440,000 in their annual budget for TEAM so that they can offer their services full time. The group is also asking for $1.5 million to fund a rental assistance program for families fighting evictions.

And at the May 7 council meeting, it appeared that the council unanimously supported the cause.

Funding TEAM is one piece of the puzzle that will “keep people in their homes,” at-large councilmember Hugh Holston said.

What evictions numbers look like in Guilford County 

Last year, around 16,000 Guilford County households had eviction notices filed against them, according to data collected by the North Carolina Housing Coalition. 

And a major problem with the system is the huge disparity in legal representation.

Ninety percent of landlords in housing court had legal representation, while only 10 percent of evicted tenants were able to obtain legal assistance.

TEAM has helped 15 percent of those 16,000 households avoid eviction, according to Keep Gate City Housed leader Cecile Crawford.

According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 34,703 unaccompanied youth were experiencing homelessness in the United States in 2023.

Around 90.6 percent were between the ages of 18 to 24, while the remaining 9.3 percent were under 18 — that’s 3,240 unaccompanied children.

Susan Burkholder, who spoke at the May 7 council meeting, said that she regularly works with the homeless. Her eyes were opened to the correlation between homelessness and eviction after she spoke with Keep Gate City Housed leaders, she said.

It’s one thing to see the numbers, said Burkholder, but the grief reverberating through eviction court reveals the harsh reality some families in Guilford County are facing.

“Now the numbers take on names and faces and situations that are a stark reminder of how hard life is for folks who are living on the edge,” Burkholder said. “This perspective of naming eviction prevention as homelessness prevention… It just made so much sense.”

Another speaker, Casey Thomas, is a homeowner in Glenwood.

Thomas said that it’s not uncommon to see piles of people’s belongings on the curb in her neighborhood — a visual reminder that eviction can happen to anyone, anywhere.

“You see their clothes, furniture, children’s toys — just their lives that they can’t take with them when they’re kicked out,” Thomas explained. Anita Washington, who also spoke, described to the council how she is the “face of eviction.”

A victim of retaliatory eviction, Washington requested some repairs from her landlord. After that, the eviction process began, she said.

“It was a long haul. I was in court every month.”

But having legal assistance made all the difference, Washington said.

“I would never have avoided eviction if I didn’t have legal assistance,” Washington admitted. A legal aide came into court with Washington and showed her the process, she explained.

The legal aide “helped me and I got out,” Washington said, adding that she is “so happy” now.

Group gains the support of city leadership

Mayor Pro Tempore Yvonne Johnson expressed her wholehearted support after listening to the speakers. She said she was “impressed” and “excited” about the work they are doing. 

“With some money you can do even better; so I’m gonna support that,” she said.

Holston said that he’s in “strong support” of including $440,000 in the city’s budget. As the leader of Greensboro Housing Coalition since August 2023, Holston is no stranger to housing issues, and said that TEAM is simply about being fair and giving people the opportunity to have representation. People “might still be evicted, but at least they’ll have someone with them to help them to understand the process…the timelines, the appeals processes. Just being fair — it’s about fair housing,” Holston said.

Councilmembers Goldie Wells, Sharon Hightower and Marikay Abuzuaiter also leaned in favor of funding TEAM.

“It appears that you have got unanimous support here,” Mayor Nancy Vaughan told those gathered in support of Keep Gate City Housed.

Vaughan and councilmembers will discuss the budget this month with city staff. While Keep Gate City Housed has the verbal support of city leaders, the city’s budget hasn’t been finalized. 

On May 21, Interim City Manager Chris Wilson will present the recommended budget to the mayor and city council. The city will hold a public hearing on June 4 so residents can comment on the proposed budget.  On June 18, city leaders will vote to adopt the budget. The city’s fiscal year begins on July 1.

At the podium, Crawford shared that this fight is personal to her — as someone who once faced eviction herself.

“Imagine sitting in court, facing an eviction,” she said. “You spent the last couple of weeks scrounging up everything that you could on your rent, because you got sick and had to take non-paid days. You took another day from work to be in court.”

On top of that, late fees, court costs and a mountain of other debts have piled up at this point, Crawford explained.

“You have to go to the bathroom. You’ve been there for hours, but you don’t dare get up, because they might call you and you’d lose your home,” she added.

Luckily for Crawford, her landlord took the money she had and the judge decided not to charge her the extra fees.

“I don’t think people understand that any of us can find ourselves in that seat, alone, with no lawyer,” Crawford stated.

Now, Crawford regularly observes eviction court, and sees people sitting in the same position she was once in, feeling the same frustrations she once felt.

“You can tell what a city finds value in by what is in its budget. We need you to add this funding to the budget,” Crawford said.

The next city council meeting is on May 21, and the next public comment period will be held at the June 4 meeting. Meetings are held at 300 W. Washington St. in the Katie Dorsett Council Chamber.

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