State still working to stand up new rental assistance program ::

State still working to stand up new rental assistance program ::

State officials don’t have a timetable yet to open a new rental assistance program to bolster a similar initiative that proved so popular that it closed after three weeks worth of applications soaked up the available funding.

When it does open, this program should be larger than the fist one, which saw massive demand, though it’s taken officials months to distribute less than a third of the funding.

The latest federal Coronavirus bill, which the president signed into law December 27, includes an estimated $700 million for rental assistance in North Carolina.

Some of that money will flow through larger city and county governments around the state, but the state’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency will run a statewide version, helping people struggling through the pandemic pay their rent..

Officials said they’re working hard to iron out the details, and that they received guidance they needed from the federal government Wednesday.

“We know people really need this help,” NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency spokeswoman Haley Pfeiffer Haynes said Friday.

The state’s initial Mortgage, Utility and Rent Relief Program closed its application window about November 12. In three weeks it took in 42,000 eligible applications. So far it has distributed money to about half of them, helping 21,805 households to with rent and utility payments.

The state continues to process those grants, and in the meantime people who qualified are protected from eviction. So far the state has paid out $46.8 million, the Office of Recovery said Friday. The office said this number goes up daily. On Thursday it put distributions at $40.65 million.

This program’s total funding was $167 million, federal money the state allocated for this purpose out of a larger pot of federal coronavirus stimulus. Though the program has distributed less than a third of that, state officials expect the remaining applications will use up the full $167 million.

While the basic decision on eligibility are fairly simply, exactly how much assistance people qualify for is more complicated, requiring more paperwork and in many cases agreements with landlords who have to promise not to evict their tenants, the office said Friday.

The new program will have different rules, because the federal bill creating it is more restrictive. This new $700 million is money the federal government dedicated specifically for this type of assistance program. The previous funding had fewer strings attached to it, and the state stood up its own program.

People who qualified for grants under the original program may also qualify under the new one, if they need continued assistance. They may have to submit new paperwork, due to the new federal requirements. New applicants will also be eligible once the program opens.

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