If you weren’t eligible for rental assistance before, you may be now

If you weren’t eligible for rental assistance before, you may be now

PrincessSaifya Byers - Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Milwaukeeans struggled to find rental assistance that was not directly tied to a loss of income because of the pandemic.

But more recent Emergency Rental Assistance funds are more flexible and may be able to help those who were slipping through the cracks.

Now programs like Community Advocates’ Rent Assistance Program can assist people who have experienced financial hardship during the pandemic and are behind on rent or utilities. The reason for their need no longer has to be related to the pandemic.

Initial Emergency Rent Assistance “dollars were only eligible to people who had lost their income due to the pandemic,” said Deborah Heffner, the housing strategy director for Community Advocates. “These funds are more flexible.”

She said, because of the different funds, Community Advocates has been able to help families with paying up to 18 months of rent. 

Though ERA 2 funds remove the necessity for need to be directly tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are still COVID relief funds, which means the funds cannot be used for needs dating before March of 2020.

Eligibility for Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) 1 funds and Emergency Rental Assistance 2 funds remain similar. Eligibility for ERA 2 funds say people qualify if:

  • One or more individuals within a household has qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship during or due, directly or indirectly, to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • One or more individuals within the household can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability.
  • The household is a low-income family, meaning those whose incomes do not exceed 80 percent of the median income in Milwaukee county.

Though things have slowed down a bit, Heffner said there is still a steady number of applications coming in weekly. She hopes that being able to hire additional housing navigators through funds helped along by Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore of Milwaukee will enable staffers to continue to assist people.

In addition, residents have other rental assistance opportunities.

Krystina Kohler, the financial stability portfolio manager for the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, said the Safe and Stable Homes initiative provides grants to several housing agencies that can help.

She pointed to the Family Flex Fund, which provides tiered financial support and case management for families on the IMPACT/Milwaukee Continuum of Care’s prioritization list who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence, as well as rapid rehousing and shelter services. All can be accessed through IMPACT 211.

“I know it may feel like we are telling you things you already know or making you wait when you call,” Kohler said. “But those calls go into a system, and you are put on a prevention list.”

She added: “I want be people to be confident in calling because conversations on how to better assist them are happening. We are doing our best and working on being better, weekly.”

Kohler said the most important thing you can do if you’re worried about housing is to reach out as soon as possible.

“Milwaukee has a bunch of different prevention programs that can help every step of the way,” she said. “Engaging them as early as possible can really help.”


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