If you got slammed one way or another by COVID-19 and lapsed on your rent or house payment as a result, there is help.
The government has deployed billions of dollars to prevent people like you from getting evicted in this pandemic, and a major chunk of that cash sits unspent — even as many residents could be using it to keep current with monthly payments and stay in their homes while they catch up.
The same goes for homeowners behind on their mortgages. For months, a rising chorus of elected leaders, housing advocates and business types has urged folks in financial distress to take advantage and avert a bigger disaster, including a new plea this week from Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.
Up to a third of Utahns are saying they face some likelihood of eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to a weekly pulse survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
As many as 200,000 Utahns who are renting also could qualify for assistance. On Thursday, President Joe Biden authorized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend its federal moratorium on evictions for another 30 days. It now will lift July 31, potentially leaving millions exposed.
So why get kicked out of your home if coronavirus pandemic relief cash from Congress is out there and could make the difference? Here’s a guide to getting aid:
What’s the first step?
If you haven’t already, talk to your landlord or whoever holds your mortgage about it.
Officials at federal, state, county and city agencies in charge of connecting residents with rental and mortgage aid through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the American Rescue Plan Act say this again and again.
“Don’t delay,” echoed Tony Milner, a top policy and program manager on Salt Lake City’s housing issues.
“Communicate to your landlords and lenders early about your ability to pay so that you can work together on a plan that makes everyone whole,” Milner said. “That’s the best outcome.”
You can be only one day past due and qualify under these programs as experiencing housing instability as long as you meet other rules. Renters can even ask their landlord for help in applying.
This tsunami of aid is flowing from the feds through state, county and city governments and officials at those levels are all either fielding applications right now or can steer you in the right direction.
There’s as much as $400 million available in Utah, sliced and diced among a range of public and nonprofit programs if you live in Salt Lake County. The assistance is being paid, in the end, to landlords and mortgage lenders when their tenants and borrowers qualify.
Utah offers rentrelief.utah.gov as a go-to portal on both emergency rental assistance statewide and help with unpaid fees, utility bills and other relief.
As of March, Utah’s Department of Workforce Services has been using the site to dole out nearly $215 million in emergency rent aid through Salt Lake City and Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties. But there’s new urgency now.
Sure, there are worries about a big spike in housing distress and homelessness after the latest eviction moratorium lifts. But if Utah doesn’t get this money out to folks who need it by fall, federal law calls for much of it to be redistributed to other states.
“Too many renters still do not understand it,” said Paul Smith, head of the Utah Apartment Association, representing landlords.
Do you qualify?
In terms of income, you have to earn 80% or less of area median incomes, which you can research using this online tool from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In Salt Lake County, that would mean earning less than $49,280 for an individual or less than $63,300 for a household of three people, according to the latest census numbers. Those income brackets take in thousands of Utahns living on disability or Social Security as well as lots of students, younger employees, single-parent households and a host of blue-collar workers.
Then, there’s documenting the pandemic’s hit to your pocketbook, which, alas, should not be hard. When it comes to income losses, added expenses or other financial hardships due to COVID-19, Smith said, “I don’t know anyone who can’t find some example from their life.”
Lastly, you have to document housing instability of some kind, which can include a pay-or-vacate notice or delinquent bills but can also be as simple as showing you are one surprise expense away from financial crisis.
What about homeowners?
Salt Lake City’s housing officials have a pilot program seeded with $250,000 for mortgage assistance to homeowners set back by the pandemic, in partnership with nonprofits NeighborWorks and the Community Development Corporation of Utah. Those eligible in terms income with proof of COVID-related financial hardship can get grants or low-income loans of up to $5,000 to cover housing costs.
Set up in hopes of getting ahead of evictions when the CDC moratorium was set to lift June 30, this mortgage assistance program has already helped 29 Salt Lake City families, Mendenhall said.
How quickly will help come?
There were sputters and delays in getting money to qualified applicants when some of these programs first launched in the teeth of the pandemic, but payments are now said to be going out in a matter of days.
The state expedites applications, too, for folks at lower incomes and those who’ve been out of work for more than 90 days.
“For families facing economic uncertainty,” said Casey Cameron, executive director of Utah Department of Workforce Services, “there’s nothing more important than knowing that they can remain in their home.”