FOREST CITY —Those who continue to suffer economically from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, now have another option for assistance.

On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that applications are now being accepted for the N.C. Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) Program, which will assist eligible low and moderate-income renters who are having financial difficulty because of COVID-19. The new program seeks to promote housing stability during the pandemic, by providing rent and utility assistance to prevent evictions and utility disconnections.

“The spread of coronavirus has affected every aspect of our lives . Many have lost jobs, had work hours cut back or had to care for someone who has become ill with COVID-19,” said Cooper. “By creating this program to help with rent and utility bills, we can keep people in their homes where they will be safest during this pandemic.”

The HOPE Program will provide $117 million for rent and utility assistance for renters who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, have a current household income that is 80% of the area median income or lower, and are behind on their rent or utilities when they apply.

Renters who need rent or utility assistance can apply online at Applicants who cannot access the online application can also call 2-1-1 and speak with a program representative, who will assist the caller through the application process on the phone. Callers may reach 2-1-1 Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.

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The HOPE Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant-Coronavirus funds and U.S. Department of Treasury Coronavirus Relief funds, which have been provided to North Carolina. The funds are administered by the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency, a division of the Department of Public Safety, and will be distributed through community partner agencies statewide.

“We are so happy to see this funding become available,” said John Carroll, director of the Rutherford County Department of Social Services (DSS). “The needs are definitely being seen in our county. So many people have had lost wages, and with the eviction and payment moratoriums expiring many will have needs that local resources alone cannot meet.

“Most assistance programs have limits in terms of how much funding each family can receive, and many will be beyond these limits,” Carroll continued. “The HOPE Program funding will be especially valuable to these families in preventing evictions and disconnected utilities.”