By Lyra Bordelon
A family with past-due rent payments needing help after losing income in 2020 could have a new way out thanks to the rental assistance program recently created by Congress.
As the Ronceverte City Council recently celebrated the payment of over $25,000 in past due utility bills from CARES Act money, Councilmember Leah Sills encouraged both residents of Ronceverte and citizens of West Virginia with past-due rent to look into the new program.
“I work for Legal Aid of West Virginia, which is why I know a lot of this stuff, it’s what we do,” Sills said. “Assisting under-privileged populations is all we do. We have a number of other issues and help that has come out of these pandemic relief bills that could be helpful for people in the area. I always direct them to [our] website (lawv.net). We have a whole bunch of topics up with legal aid for West Virginians and there’s a whole section on COVID topics.”
One of these topics is the rental assistance program created in the December 2020 relief bill passed by Congress. Due to the relative newness of the bill, many of the details are still unknown.
“We don’t know how much any individual person applying might stand to get, but it sounds pretty significant,” Sills said.
The rental assistance program was created in order to help both renters and landlords, after the Center for Disease Control issued a moratorium on evictions based on inability to pay rent alone during the COVID-19 pandemic. The moratorium also did not require the inability to pay be related to COVID-19 income loss.
“[The rental assistance] acknowledges [that] moratorium on evictions and the fact that renters aren’t able to pay the rent because of decreased income and loss of jobs due to COVID,” Sills said. “It’s put everybody in a bind. A lot of landlords aren’t wealthy either, they’re making ends meet and if they haven’t gotten rent from their tenants in six or seven months, a lot of them are in a bad way. The stimulus bill [provides] $25 billion in rental assistance for the country, West Virginia will be getting $200 million of that. It’s designed to recognize those issues.”
West Virginia Housing Development Fund (HDF) will receive the state’s portion of the Congressionally allocated funds. Disbursal of the funds will focus on the renter’s financial situations, but landlords can also apply on their renter’s behalf.
“If there’s a landlord that thinks their tenant would qualify under this program, but for whatever reason the renter is not willing to do it, the landlord can apply on their behalf,” Sills said. “When the money is dispersed, it’s supposed to go directly to the landlord.”
According to the HDF website, rent, rental arrears, utilities, and home energy arrears are eligible for potential relief. This only includes rental payments after April 1, 2020.
“Once approved, MRAP payments for rent must be made directly to the landlord,” reads the website. “Only in instances where the landlord refuses to accept payment on behalf of the renter may assistance be paid directly to the renter.”
For a “renter household” to be eligible, the household would have to have an income with “no more than 80 percent of the area median income” where:
- “One or more individuals in the household has qualified for unemployment benefits or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak.”
- “One or more individuals in the household can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability which may include a past due utility or rent notice or an eviction notice or any other evidence of such risk as determined by the program guidance and the Fund.”
Although applications are not currently available, anyone interested in applying can sign up to be notified at https://www.wvhdf.com/programs/mountaineer-rental-assistance-program.
“There are a lot of unknowns still because everyone is figuring it out right now, but if you go to the West Virginia Housing and Development Fund website, … people can start signing up to get updates, how they can qualify, and what kind of documentation they can start gathering if they think they’re going to apply,” Sills said.