More help is coming for renters and landlords, as the Thurston County Board of Commissioners approved a contract on Tuesday to distribute $10 million in federal and state rent assistance through the Community Action Council.
That includes $8.6 million from the second federal stimulus package that Congress passed in December. It also includes $1.4 million in money from the state's disaster response account, which Gov. Jay Inslee authorized on Feb. 11.
Tom Webster, the Housing Program Manager for the Thurston County Public Health Department, said he anticipates the money becoming available by the end of February or beginning of March.
By the most recent count, 191,000 households in Washington state are currently behind on rent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey. That's in addition to another 450,000 households who reported using credit cards or loans to pay rent.
The state Department of Commerce first created the Eviction Rent Assistance Program (ERAP) in August 2020 using federal CARES ACT money, of which Thurston County received $3.18 million. That money was largely expended by the end of 2020, though Thurston County added a small amount of its own housing-related funds to plug the gap for January and February, according to Webster.
This new round of federal funding, called the Treasury Rent Assistance Program (T-RAP), will cover up to 12 months of rental arrears, plus a possible three months more in certain cases.
Eligibility is determined by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, although the current guidelines may yet be expanded by the Biden administration. However, even households that don't meet the federal criteria may still be eligible for state rental assistance funds, which have different screening criteria that have not yet been finalized by the Department of Commerce.
As it stands, applicants must meet three criteria: make less than 80% of Area Median Income, be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and have experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19.
One important difference in the new round of federal relief is that landlords can now apply directly and don't have to rely on their tenants to apply for help.
More money also will be forthcoming as Washington's state legislature appropriated $365 million in federal aid for rent assistance earlier this month as part of a $2.2 billion COVID relief package. It's not clear how much of that will come to Thurston County.
To apply for rental assistance, contact the Community Action Council by calling 360-438-1100, then press 8 for Housing and 7 for ERAP.
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