Wednesday, Oct. 04, 2023|
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A program providing rental relief to those affected by the pandemic could continue into mid-2025.
The Hawaii County Emergency Rental Assistance Program began in April 2021 and has disbursed nearly $15 million to 1,903 low-income Big Island households seeking assistance to pay rent.
Last fall, the program was extended through June, and now, thanks to an additional influx of federal funds, it will be able to continue for more than three more years.
“That’s pretty huge, obviously, and we’re really excited,” said Jeff Gilbreath, executive director of Hawaii Community Lending, which is administering the program through a contract with the county.
Sharon Hirota, specialist with the county Office of Housing and Community Development, said the county will receive $9 million from the federal government to administer the ERAP’s second phase. The county has published a request for proposal and hopes to have a new contract with a program administer secured before the current contract runs out.
“We obviously want people to access this money as soon as possible,” Hirota said. “We don’t want there to be a gap between phases.”
Hirota added that the county has an obligation to spend the federal funds by September 2025, meaning the program could end before then, depending on how quickly the money is spent.
The program allows residential renters to apply for grants to help pay unpaid past rent and utility bills from as far back as March 13, 2020, or current and future rent for up to three months. Beneficiaries can receive up to 15 months’ worth of grant payments.
With the program expected to run for several more years, Gilbreath said it will shift from being a pandemic-specific relief program to a general-purpose program for low-income households.
Under the federally dictated terms of the current ERAP phase, in order to be eligible for the program, at least one person in a household must have experienced some sort of financial hardship caused directly or indirectly by the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability, and have a household income at or below 80% of the area median income.
The eligibility requirements for the second phase subtly shift the wording for that first condition: An individual must have experienced hardship “during or due … to the coronavirus pandemic.” Gilbreath said these new terms will allow more struggling people to receive funding.
In addition, ERAP beneficiaries will be able to receive up to 18 months’ worth of payments during the second phase, Gilbreath said.
Gilbreath said the availability of programs like ERAP has helped avoid a flood of evictions after the end of Gov. David Ige’s moratorium on rent-related evictions last August.
“We haven’t seen nearly as many evictions as we thought,” Gilbreath said. “We have seen a lot of mediation cases, which tells us people are working these things out in mediation before they get to the courts.”
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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