Friday, August 14, 2020

State to launch $100 million rental assistance program

Staff Writer | July 29, 2020 11:23 PM

OLYMPIA — State officials will begin sending out $100 million in federal CARES Act funds early next week to help support those who cannot afford to pay their rent due to impacts from the pandemic, according to a spokesperson for the state Department of Commerce.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced at a press conference last week that a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, originally set to expire Aug. 1, would be extended to Oct. 31. The moratorium had been put in place to protect renters who were out of work due to business closures mandated by the state, restrictions that Inslee also tightened last week, leading additional business owners to say they would have to lay off workers.

In addition to the renewed restrictions, renters out of work during the pandemic may no longer get an additional $600 in unemployment benefits that Congress approved in March but which expires in August.

With unemployed renters potentially facing a double whammy, and eventually being required to pay their back rent, state officials have worked overtime to get a rental assistance program into place using CARES act funds, said Penny Thomas, spokesperson for the state Department of Commerce.

To expedite that process, Thomas said, the state Department of Commerce was working with its existing network of housing and homeless service providers, which will operate within their own communities and act as intermediaries for the funds. The agency will not directly distribute funds to renters or landlords, Thomas added.

The program is intended to prevent evictions, particularly among people most likely to become homeless or suffer severe health effects if they are evicted. Additionally, Thomas wrote in an email, the program is being geared to promote racial equity in who is served, with a focus on racial groups who have historically not been provided equitable access to rent assistance, groups disproportionately impacted by the outbreak, or those most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Exact guidelines for the distribution of funds are expected to be published in the next week, Thomas said.