A for rent sign sits in the front yard of a single-family home in Boise’s West End. (Christina Lords/Idaho Capital Sun)
While the city of Boise has spent nearly all of the emergency rental assistance that was allocated by the federal government to assist residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, representatives from the Idaho Housing and Finance Association say that doesn’t mean the $175 million that was allocated to the state agency is going to waste.
The Emergency Rental Assistance 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.
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The federal government established a minimum of $200 million for the rental assistance program to states with lower populations such as Idaho, said marketing and communications director Jason Lantz. From there, the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority applied for a portion of the funding and received an allotment of $24 million and the rest went to the association. Anyone living outside of Ada County could apply for assistance from the Idaho Housing and Finance Association.
As of Friday, Lantz said Idaho Housing and Finance has distributed $19.1 million of the $175 million in aid, on top of $14.5 million in similar assistance from the CARES Act in 2020.
Lantz said officials at the U.S. Department of the Treasury now recognize that distribution model was flawed, and they are taking back funds that will likely be reallocated to Boise and Ada County to continue providing local aid.
“We are getting $33.1 million recaptured, which we fully expected from the start, “Lantz said. “… We think it’s great that they’re going to give those to local governments.”
During an interview with the Idaho Capital Sun last week, Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said the city is committed to securing more funds that are “sitting dormant” at the state level.
“We developed a program and then we let it be known that it was there, because it really was our intent not to sit on funds that could help residents that are hurting and to get them into the hands of those that need them most,” McLean said.
Lantz said it has been more challenging to get the word out that funds are available to residents outside of Ada County, but said it’s still significant that the association has been distributing $2 million per month in assistance.
“There are obvious challenges in reaching every corner of the state. We devoted a significant portion of our staff resources, and we’ve done just about everything you can imagine, from TV and radio (advertisements) to search engine marketing, direct mail, email campaigns,” he said. “But the biggest help has been our partners, some of whom we don’t work with on a regular basis. We’ve had help from the Idaho Department of Labor, other state agencies, utility providers, industry associations, all of those around the state have been super helpful.”
More funds could be approved by Idaho Legislature in 2022 session
Another $152 million in Emergency Rental Assistance was included in the American Rescue Plan Act with an expiration date of Sept. 30, 2027. None of that funding has been approved by the Idaho Legislature, but it may be considered during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January. Lantz said the federal guidance for the use of those funds is more flexible than the first round of assistance, so it’s possible it could be used for affordable housing developments, but that is still to be determined.
Ultimately, Lantz said he’s glad to see the money going where it is needed.
“I think it’s clear that the overall amount of funding was great, they just didn’t get the distribution as accurate. That’s just the way it is,” he said. “We want the money in the hands of the people who need it. However that happens, that’s great.”
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