Eviction Diversion Program gains support from Durham City Council amid eviction crisis
The Civil Justice Clinic’s Eviction Diversion Program will receive $200,000 from the City of Durham to support two new staff attorneys and a paralegal. Durham City Council voted to support the program on May 31, calling it an effort to stem a crisis of evictions. Durham County has the highest rate of eviction filings among North Carolina’s ten largest counties, with approximately 900 cases filed each month.
Civil Justice Clinic Director Charles Holton '73 said he was “very pleased” to receive the council’s support for the Eviction Diversion Program, which was launched in late 2017 in partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC). In its first six months of operation — still its pilot stage — the program helped clients avoid evictions in 45 of the 58 cases handled, or 79 percent, he said, with need vastly outpacing available resources.
“We received many more referrals to the program,” he said. “Due to the very short windows of time involved [in evictions] and our limited resources, we were unable to make contact with many potential clients or their cases were already so far along that there was nothing that we could do.
“This funding should enable us to at least double the amount of tenants whom we are helping in the program, as well as to spread the word more broadly within the Durham community that both financial and legal help is available for those in need,” said Holton.
Holton and Jesse McCoy II, a veteran LANC attorney who joined the clinic last year as the inaugural James Scott Farrin Lecturing Fellow and supervising attorney, worked with LANC to implement the pilot program, which is designed to avert eviction judgements, even if a settlement results in a tenant vacating a property voluntarily.
“An eviction judgment becomes a blot on a credit record, which then impedes an individual’s future ability to lease property, to borrow money, and to get Habitat for Humanity housing, among other consequences,” Holton said, noting that evictions also result in homelessness and severe family disruption.
Some Duke Law students enrolled in the Civil Justice Clinic handle cases for clients of the Eviction Diversion Program. Their work includes initial client intake, investigation of claims and lease review, and appearances in court to argue eviction cases before the civil magistrates or district court judges.
Durham County commissioners are also considering support for the Eviction Diversion Program. In addition to supporting an expansion of the program’s professional staff, Holton hopes the county commission will create an unrestricted funding pool that can be available for emergency rental assistance.
James Scott Farrin ’90 called for public support of the Eviction Diversion Program in a May 21 essay published in the Durham Herald-Sun.
“The Durham Eviction Diversion Program isn’t just a good idea,” Farrin wrote. “It’s a sign post for the kind of smart, caring and equitable community we want to be, as well as a lifeline for people who need and deserve an advocate by their side.”
Read more about the Civil Justice Clinic’s Eviction Diversion Program:
Durham votes to expand Civil Justice Clinic's Eviction Diversion Program - Durham Herald-Sun
Farrin '90: Civil Justice Clinic's Eviction Diversion Program deserves funding - Durham Herald-Sun