A $5.5 million assistance program intended to help Clark County residents struggling to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic officially launched Monday.
The Emergency Rent Assistance Program will serve an estimated 2,500 to 3,500 low-income households. Eligible households can receive one-time assistance that covers up to three months of past, present or future rent. The program is accessed by two phone lines:
- Council for the Homeless’ Housing Hotline at 360-695-9677 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays for information in English, Spanish, Russian, Chuukese or Marshallese.
- Share at 360-952-8317, ext. 387, for English or 360-952-8318, ext., 386 for Spanish, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.
The eligibility screening takes about five minutes to complete.
To qualify, households must have an annual income of less than 50 percent of the area median income ($46,050 for a family of four or $32,250 for a single person) and have at least one month of partially or fully unpaid rent since March. Additionally, at least one member of the household needs to be rent-burdened, disabled, at severe risk of illness due to age or underlying condition, previously homeless, have a history of eviction or have had housing disrupted due to race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or religion. Citizenship is not a requirement to eligibility.
“Hopefully, it won’t be a lot of wait times,” said Michael Torres, program manager at Clark County Community Services. “In terms of what is being asked and what is being required this is as simple as it gets.”
Also, the landlord-tenant relationship doesn’t have to be a formal or traditional one. If someone is staying with a family member or friend or renting a pad at an RV park, they could qualify for help.
Rebecca Royce, program coordinator at Community Services, said one of the safeguards to prevent abuse is using the homeless management information system, or HMIS, to track who has received services. The landlord will verify whether rent is owed and will directly receive rent payments.
There’s $100 million in rent assistance being dispersed statewide using a U.S. Department of the Treasury grant funneled through the Washington State Department of Commerce. It’s meant to help people as quickly as possible and prevent evictions. Washington currently has a moratorium on evictions that’s set to end Oct. 15 but could be extended.
The COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn hit low-income households particularly hard, said Kate Budd, executive director of Council for the Homeless.
“We’ve seen a considerable increase in calls” to the Housing Hotline, she said.
According to the Census Bureau’s Pulse Survey, 17 percent of Washington renters missed their July rent payment. The state’s employment has declined 12 percent since February, and use of food assistance programs has increased 15 percent. Since March, many renters have stayed afloat using various local rent assistance funds, but the Emergency Rent Assistance Program is believed to be the largest yet.
Budd said her organization brought on additional staff to field the expected increase in calls and connect people to translation services if needed. The line manned by homeless service organization Share is new. After the initial call to determine eligibility, households may not receive a call back for up to a month. It could be several weeks before landlords receive the emergency rent payments. Mail delays could also slow down the mailing of checks to landlords.
Clark County has until Dec. 31 to spend the money, but it’s likely it’ll be spent out by early November, Budd said. She encourages people in need to call sooner rather than later. Saturdays may be a less busy time to call.
Royce said 5 percent of the money is intended for outreach efforts to culturally specific organizations. The county contracted with 10 groups to disseminate information about the Emergency Rent Assistance Program: Cascade AIDS Project, KBMS Radio’s charitable arm, Chris Bennett Enterprises Charities, COFA Alliance National Network of Washington, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, LULAC, Lutheran Community Services Northwest, Odyssey World International Education Services, PEACE NW or Parents Empowered and Communities Enhanced, The Noble Foundation and Washington Advocates of Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Most will also provide direct referrals. Royce said the county is also getting the word out by distributing flyers and putting information on social media and nextdoor.com.
The $5.5 million includes $558,524 for youth up to age 24, which will be distributed by Council for the Homeless and Janus Youth Programs.
Additional information is online at councilforthehomeless.org/ERAP.