Home National housing The race is on to secure rental aid to avoid evictions

The race is on to secure rental aid to avoid evictions

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BOSTON – More than $ 7,000 in arrears on rent, Tyesha Young had hoped that a program in Louisiana would bail her out and allow her family to avoid eviction in the weeks to come.

But the 29-year-old mother-of-two from Jefferson Parish is still waiting to see if any of the state’s $ 308 million available for rent assistance and utility payments will give her a lifeline. . She asked for money last year but never heard a thing. She is waiting for news on her latest app.

Federal money was divided between a statewide program in Louisiana and its larger parishes. Neither went well. The state paid out $ 10.5 million out of $ 147 million, while Jefferson Parish distributed only $ 1.4 million out of $ 12.9 million. The parish replaced the company overseeing the program after only $ 236,000 was distributed in May.

“Where are we going to go?” Asked Young, who lost his hospital job during the pandemic and now has to stay home to care for her 7-month-old baby.

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“It’s brand new, it’s not something I thought I would have to deal with in my life,” she said. “I have two kids to think about. That’s a lot.”

Louisiana’s struggles unfold across the country as states rush to distribute nearly $ 47 billion allocated by Congress for emergency rent assistance ahead of a federal moratorium on evictions ends on July 31, putting millions of people at risk of losing their homes.

The historic amount, higher than the annual budget of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, was allocated in December and March.

Housing advocates partly attribute the slow deployment to President Donald Trump’s Treasury Department who they say has been slow to explain how the money could be spent. The criteria, although clearer under the Biden administration, were still criticized for a cumbersome process that seemed more focused on preventing fraud than helping tenants.

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Advocates also said states made matters worse – some waited months for programs to be in place and others created bureaucratic hurdles.

As a result, little money came out. According to data released Friday by the Treasury Department, only $ 1.5 billion has been provided to about 350,000 households as of May 31. This is less than 4% of the allocated money.

Missouri Representative Cori Bush, a Democrat who has been deported herself, said her office has received calls from families “who don’t know how to apply for the funds or who say the request is confusing and stressful.” .

“It is unacceptable that millions of dollars are being deposited into the state bank account as families … across Missouri are struggling to stay at home,” she said.

“For many families, this help makes the difference between coming home with an eviction notice or coming home to a safe place to rest at night. “

Some 3.4 million people could be evicted over the next two months, according to the latest US Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey – a number some advocates say could be double.

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Many tenants will be forced out of a hot housing market where prices rise and vacancy rates fall. They will also be stuck with eviction and unpaid rent cases that make it nearly impossible to find new housing, forcing many to turn to homeless shelters or find housing in low-income neighborhoods. income without good schools or access to transport and jobs.

Among those at risk is Freddie Davis, a 51-year-old Miami truck driver who lost his job during the pandemic and saw his rent drop from $ 875 to $ 1,400 a month. He is $ 7,000 behind on rent and fears his monthly disability check of $ 1,038 after losing a leg to diabetes may not be enough to find another place. He applied for rental assistance, but his landlord refused to accept it.

“I’m worried like hell. I have nowhere else to go, ”said Davis, who has been working since the age of 15 and has never been kicked out. “In Miami, the rent is exorbitant. I’m going to sleep in my truck and put all my stuff away.

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The National Low Income Housing Coalition found that of the 51 programs it has followed so far, only 14% of funds allocated in December had been distributed. Most states are not distributing the March money yet.

The Associated Press found that states as diverse as North Dakota and California were having difficulty getting help. Georgia distributed only $ 11 million out of $ 552 million, North Dakota provided $ 3.4 million out of $ 200 million, North Carolina provided $ 73 million out of $ 546 million and California $ 73 million of $ 1.4 billion. New York launched $ 2 billion program last month but expect it to take four to six weeks before distributing anything.

Barriers vary, according to a Housing Coalition survey in April, including lack of capacity to administer the program, technical difficulties in getting it up and running, and lack of cooperation from tenants and their landlords.

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Some owners refused to participate. Sometimes tenants did not complete applications – often because they had to provide proof of lost jobs or other financial hardship during the pandemic.

Some same problems emerged last year when states set aside nearly $ 2.6 billion from the CARES law for rent assistance.

A common refrain was that the federal requirements were too onerous and the guidelines too strict.

Erica Boggess, executive director of the West Virginia Housing Fund, which manages the state’s rent assistance program, called it a “time consuming” to explain why it had only distributed $ 8.7 million in funding. $ 200 million in the first round of financing.

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“It’s a lot of work,” Boggess said of requirements that include verifying a COVID-19 proof and documenting an applicant’s income before going to a landlord for acceptance of funds.

“It’s frustrating for the tenant and probably for the owners as well,” she said. “We have to go through the process. It’s just not something that can happen overnight.”

California has made changes to its long request, which could take three hours. He reduced the number of documents required from nine to one; now it takes 30 minutes to complete. It also extended the languages ​​on the program’s website from two to six.

Russ Heimerich, spokesperson for California’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, said the state initially followed Treasury rules to prevent duplication of benefits and to ensure claimants were entitled to what they wanted. had obtained. “Now we’re just relying on a tenant’s attestation that they’ve had financial hardship with COVID-19,” he said.

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Since March, the Treasury Department has demanded that the money go directly to tenants, among other streamlining measures, and urged landlords not to evict tenants until 90 days after the assistance period.

“We need aid distributed now, before the moratorium on deportations expires at the end of July,” Susan Rice, director of the White House’s Home Policy Council, said this week. “Tenants facing eviction are in desperate need of this relief, and landlords need to cover their bills.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


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