Rental aid funds already going to ‘most critical’ cases; money still available for new applicants

By Conor Morris

There’s good news for tenants who have applied to the rental assistance programs set up by the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County­—and for those who haven’t.

Applications for rental assistance are under review and there’s plenty of money on the table.

Since July 1, when the city and County first rolled out their $18.1 million rental assistance program, hard-hit Cuyahoga County residents have submitted more than 2,630 applications for back rent, according to CHN Housing Partners, the non-profit leading the pandemic-related rental aid programs for Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

Cleveland Housing Court at the Cleveland Municipal Court facility downtown.The funds were set up to help prevent the evictions of workers who lost their jobs after businesses closed in March due to COVID-19, and as the local moratorium on evictions expired last month.

“Now that we are operational, we have begun processing the most critical applications with eviction court dates or three-day notices,” said a recent email from CHN to program applicants. “We hope to process payments for these critical applications, once complete and deemed eligible, this month.”

Laura Boustani, strategic communications manager for CHN, says that as of yesterday, Tuesday, July 21, the average amount of rent owed by Cleveland tenants who applied for assistance was $1,500 while the average amount of rent owed by Cuyahoga County applicants was higher, around $1,800.

The rental aid is being made available in the form of rent checks (up to three months) to the landlords of the tenants who owe back rent. The aid is limited to tenants who are struggling economically due to the COVID-19 pandemic and meet certain income eligibility guidelines.

However, there were also 2,054 pending rental aid applications that were started but not finished as of  July 21, according to the numbers provided by Boustani.

“It’s not clear how long this money will last because the demand has been high,” Boustani says.

Even with the current number of completed and pending applications combined, there would still be millions of dollars left in rental aid.

Boustani says the word still needs to get out about the $18.1 million rental aid programs. Just as importantly, people need to finish those applications that are still pending, she says.

Tenants are required to provide documentation, including proof of their citizenship and a copy of their leases.

A key piece of information that’s often missing is documentation of a coronavirus-related hardship, according to the CHN. Applicants also need to make sure to provide the email available for their landlord, the email notes, so that the tenants’ financial hardship can be verified.

“Two things are critical, one is that folks complete the application once they’ve started it online,” Boustani says. “And two, that they attach all the proper documents so that we can being processing their request. We have a large percentage of people who started applications on the system but didn’t finish them. It’s important that they finish and it’s important that they provide all the proper documentation that we require so that we can begin processing.”

Cleveland is providing $11.3 million toward the program, and the Cuyahoga County is providing $6.8 million (much of that coming from the federal CARES coronavirus relief act).

A city of Cleveland spokesperson explained that about 7.9 percent of that $11.3 million will be going to fund administrative costs for CHN and EDEN Inc., the two non-profits charged with administering the program, meaning the rest is available in direct aid.

There are a variety of organizations available to help people complete their applications, including the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, (216) 687-1900; the Spanish American Committee, (216) 961-2100; Cleveland Mediation Center at Frontline Service, (216) 621-1919, ext. 6808; and Breaking Chains (216) 464-0699.

Conor Morris is a corps member with Report for America. You can find him on Twitter at @condormorris, or email him at [email protected] This story is sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative, which is composed of 16-plus Greater Cleveland news outlets including The Land.

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