Coronavirus: New aid coming if renters, landlords can ‘hang in there’

New federal funding is becoming available for those behind on rent and utilities due to to the coronavirus pandemic. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
New federal funding is becoming available for those behind on rent and utilities due to to the coronavirus pandemic. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Renters financially hit by the pandemic — as well as their landlords — need to remain patient through a lull in assistance as programs to distribute new rounds of federal funding ratchet up locally, according to people focused on housing issues.

“Everybody will be in much better shape if they can hang in there a little bit longer until we have all these pieces in place,” said Lisa Stempler, Miami Valley Community Action Partnership president and CEO. “Everybody will be made whole. We’re right on the edge.”

But a dip in aid might affect renters and their property managers for several more weeks, said Lloyd Cobble, president of the Greater Dayton Apartment Association.

“What we’re recommending to our members, as landlords, is to be patient, because the money is there,” Cobble said. “I expect there will be some delinquency early in April that might rise above the previous month, but again, with some patience, I think that will work itself out,” he said.

Montgomery County residents may soon be able to apply for funds from the Emergency Rental Assistance program passed by Congress at the end of December.

County commissioners allotted up to $8 million toward a new rental relief program tentatively set to launch April 12.

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Ohio received $556 million in the emergency program passed by Congress at the end of December. About $7.8 million went to the Miami Valley Community Action Partnership to assist residents in Darke, Greene, Preble and Montgomery counties with rent and utilities.

While the Miami Valley Community Action Partnership has continued to assist people facing immediate evictions and utility shutoff notices, the organization hasn’t fully “opened the doors” to new funding, Stempler said.

Getting the recent funding out the door has been complicated by rigorous reporting requirements based on multiple eligibility provisions that might also include calculating various income tiers, Stempler said.

“This pot of money has some complexities that are different than any other sources that we’ve received,” she said.

Building a new software system for MVCAP to take all the requirements into account and track applications has taken longer than expected, but is projected to be ready in mid-April, Stempler said.

‘Trying to catch up’

Lynette Anderson of Dayton said prior CARES Act assistance received through MVCAP allowed her to get current on rent — for now — but she finds herself falling behind on other payments.

“I’m trying to catch up on bills, deciding which ones I pay first and pay late,” Anderson said.

A medical scheduler, Anderson had her work hours cut in half a year ago at the beginning of the pandemic. After paying for groceries, it’s a constant juggling act between the other bills, she said.

“I try to work things out so stuff doesn’t get shut off,” she said.

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Households are eligible for the emergency rental and utilities aid if they have been financially impacted by the pandemic, qualify for unemployment, are at risk of homelessness or have income below 80% of area median, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

About 88 percent of Montgomery County’s 254,821 housing units are occupied. Of the occupied units, 39% are renter occupied and 61% are owner occupied, according to a 2020 county profile by Ohio’s Office of Research.

More than 500,000 adult Ohioans currently have difficulty paying rent or mortgage payments, according to U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey data collected between March 3-15. Of those, roughly 155,000 face the likelihood of eviction or foreclosure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new evictions moratorium on Thursday in place through June 30.

“A wave of evictions on that scale would be unprecedented in modern times. A large portion of those who are evicted may move into close quarters in shared housing … become homeless, thus becoming at higher risk of COVID-19,” read the CDC order.

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In addition to giving a tenant more pain and a blemished record, an eviction now won’t likely help the property owner, Stempler said.

“So many of these folks are judgment proof,” Stempler said. “They may owe that money, but whether the landlord will ever be able to collect it is questionable.”

Landlords can still evict people for “worst-case scenarios,” but may want to hold off due to nonpayment of rent, said Cobble whose organization represents owners of more than 43,000 apartment units in the Miami Valley.

“That money will come as long as the residents qualify and go through the steps to apply for that assistance,” he said. “It’s been confusing for most people, especially the smaller landlords. They think they’re getting the money, but they don’t know for sure.”

Stempler said a qualified tenant can be approved for up to 15 months of rent under the current program.

A Dayton Daily News analysis of the county’s CARES Act programs shows nearly 1,600 renters were assisted with paying their landlords while 10,512 DP&L accounts and 5,890 Vectren accounts received credits last year.

High demand anticipated

Montgomery County received a total of $15.9 million in January through the Emergency Rental Assistance legislation.

Last month, commissioners approved several resolutions outlining how $8.12 million of the funding will be spread among five area nonprofits to distribute rental assistance, according to resolutions passed March 23.

“This is different than the rental program that was under the CARES Act,” Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman said. “It’s not going to work the same way.”

Commissioners approved $2 million each for Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley, Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley, Homefull and Salvation Army Dayton Kroc Center.

Each organization will be permitted to spend $200,000 for administrative costs. Another $124,484 was approved for HelpLink 211, operated by United Way of the Greater Dayton Area, to provide intake services for the program.

“We anticipate high demand for this program, as residents are still recovering from the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic,” said Deb Decker, Montgomery County’s communications director.

The remainder of the county’s federal emergency rental funding will be held in reserve and used if an agency exhausts its initial allocation, Decker said.

When distributing $5 million in CARES Act rental assistance last year, the county selected a single provider, Miami Valley Community Action Partnership, which spent $261,775 on administrative expenses, according to county data.

“We learned from the CARES Act, that having just one organization leading distributions for so many beneficiaries can be overwhelming,” Decker said. “Having four organizations, all inputting applications and information into the same system, will not only expedite processing, but allow for more streamlined tracking and invoicing.”

Emergency Rental Assistance funds generally expire Sept. 30, 2022, according to federal guidelines.

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The newly passed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan provides $40 billion more for housing, including rent and utility aid, mortgage assistance for homeowners, as well as funding to curb homelessness and provide supportive services.

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A Dayton Daily News investigation found numerous landlords that county officials say may have improperly received federal rental assistance funds. Get the full story in Sunday’s newspaper.

Eligibility for Emergency Rental Assistance programs

Households are eligible for emergency rental assistance funds if one or more individuals:

  • Has qualified for unemployment benefits or can attest in writing that he or she has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardship directly or indirectly due to the pandemic;
  • Can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability;
  • Has a household income below 80% of area median income.

Source: U.S. Department of Treasury

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