Boise has spent all of its federal rental assistance money. Now it’s asking for more.

City, county housing officials have asked U.S. Treasury to redistribute unused funds

By: - December 9, 2021 4:45 am

After distributing all of the federal rental assistance funds for the city of Boise and nearly all of the allocation to Ada County, the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority is hoping to receive more through reallocated dollars in the coming months. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

After distributing all of the federal rental assistance funds for the city of Boise and nearly all of the allocation to Ada County, the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority is hoping to receive more through reallocated dollars in the coming months.

The program is meant to help individuals who need help with rent or utilities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it’s retroactive or future rent and utilities. An applicants’ income must not exceed 80% of the area median income, and they must provide a statement from a landlord indicating past rent or a bill from a utility company. The assistance lasts a maximum of 15 months, and payments are sent directly to landlords or utility companies to keep accounts current.

The housing authority received more than $24.2 million in Emergency Rental Assistance funds, 90% of which were to be used to help eligible households. The federal program also allocated $175 million to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association for distribution to the rest of the state. According to records from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, about 11% of those funds had been distributed by the association by the beginning of November, or a little more than $17 million. That’s double what the association reported had been spent in July.

By the beginning of December, the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority reported it has paid more than $18.5 million to residents for rent and utility assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our guiding principle as a city was that we needed to do everything possible to make this as easy and accessible as possible for residents to apply for,” Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said. 

NEED HELP?

Those who live in any Idaho county aside from Ada County can apply for assistance from the Idaho Housing and Finance Association by calling 1-855-452-0801 or applying online. Customer service agents are available to assist with the application process and documentation can be submitted via email, fax or by mail. Local housing authorities, community action agencies, utility companies, libraries, churches and local government offices may be able to help you with scanning and submitting documentation.

Those who live in Ada County, including Boise, can apply for the local housing authority assistance at this link.

That included lowering potential barriers to the application process, such as no longer requiring a narrative response about how the applicant’s inability to pay rent was related to the pandemic. Instead of a long-form response, an applicant can simply check a box. No additional documentation or explanation is required to justify the need.  

The housing authority has also worked with the International Rescue Committee and other local organizations to offer applications in seven different languages, including Spanish, Arabic, Somali and Swahili.

“We know that everybody’s been impacted by COVID, and those who are at the lower end of the income spectrum are impacted even greater,” said Deanna Watson, executive director of the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority. “We’re saying, ‘You know what, if you say it’s COVID related, it’s COVID.’ You’re being impacted because COVID is an overlay of everything that’s going on in your life.”

Nearly half of the more than 2,900 households who have received funds earn 30% or less of the area median income, Watson said, and are given priority in the application queue for assistance. Approximately half of the applicants are between the ages of 30 and 49, while 26% are between age 18 and 29.

Watson said the housing authority has benefited from existing relationships with the city of Boise and other entities across Ada County, which has allowed the organization to promote the program in a variety of places, including food pantries, legal assistance providers and financial and utility companies.

“We know and are known by those connections, so we weren’t starting from a, ‘I need to get acquainted with this community’ standpoint,” Watson said. “We already administer millions of dollars in rental assistance through our regular programs, so that gave us an opportunity to get out of the chute more quickly.”

Now Watson and McLean hope to claim some of the dollars that the U.S. Treasury will be redistributing from the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, as well as advocating for American Rescue Plan Act rental assistance dollars to be approved by the Idaho Legislature in the upcoming session. Watson said the Treasury department has informed Idaho Housing and Finance that it will be taking back $33 million of the funds, but it’s unclear how much of that may be distributed to the housing authority. The city has already made a request to the U.S. Treasury and expects to potentially have more funds by late January.

McLean said she also hopes the federal government will consider allocating more funds to other cities across Idaho that might have similar needs.

“I advocated at the White House … that whenever there’s a city or local government that’s demonstrated that they can perform and impact the lives of people with the funds that were designed to do that, I’d encourage them to look at how they can get funds direct to the local government to get them out faster,” McLean said. “… We will always be looking for opportunities to ensure that the funds that are once-in-a-generation opportunities to make investments in our community get to our community.”

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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.

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