Utahns impacted by COVID-19 can now apply online for rental assistance

Renters can request help paying for past-due rent, security deposits and utility bills.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Spanish language interpreter Lina Vega-Morrison translates for the Hispanic community during a press event at the Utah Capitol on Monday, March 15, 2021, to announce the launch of a new online application for Emergency Rental Assistance.

Utah renters who have been struggling to pay their housing and utility bills during the pandemic can now apply for emergency assistance.

Some $215 million in rental relief is available to Utahns, who can now lodge requests for funding through rentrelief.utah.gov, the online portal the state rolled out Monday. Until now, renters have applied for this money through local community action agencies.

“Part of the beauty, beside the finances, of this coming together today is the fact that we’ve recognized the barriers in access that are real throughout different forms of government,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said during a news conference at the state Capitol. “And we’ve eliminated them in this case by providing a one-stop shop.”

The Utah Department of Workforce Services joined the state’s funding partners — Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties and Salt Lake City — in announcing the new online application process Monday.

The emergency funding can cover expenses dating back to March 13, 2020, and going forward until December. Qualifying costs include current and past-due rent, up to three months of prospective rent, security deposits, utility and internet bills and certain fees, according to the website.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said the application process will be simpler than ever with the launch of the centralized website available to residents across the state. She encouraged renters not to hesitate in requesting the financial aid.

“I’ll tell you, in my years of working in government, it’s a rare time that you’re going to get this level of assistance,” she said.

People are eligible if they live in a household with a combined income at or below 80% of the area median income; if they’re dealing with housing instability; and if they’re on unemployment or have suffered income loss or incurred “significant costs” because of COVID-19, according to the state.

Applicants who have been unemployed for more than 90 days or who earn less than half the area median income could get prioritized or see their requests expedited.

Renters can apply for up to three months of aid at a time, although disbursements depend on how much funding is available, according to the website. The money will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to Utah County leaders.

“These are federal funds that will be distributed through the state, and we want to make sure Utah County residents are made aware if they are in need,” Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee said in a statement.

The state has been offering pandemic-related rental assistance since May 2020 and doled out about $25 million through December, a state news release reported. In January and February, Utah officials continued supporting renters with leftover funds. Moving forward, the state will distribute federal funding it received through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program approved by Congress in December.

The $215 million figure cited by the state Monday does not take into account funding provided by the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 assistance package approved by the federal government this month. Nate McDonald, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said state officials are still waiting for more information about how much housing assistance money could come to Utah through the new relief bill and what strings might be attached to it.

McDonald told reporters Monday that he expects officials will be able to process rental assistance requests “quickly and smoothly” but said applicants can speed up the review by making sure their submissions are complete.

This required documentation is: A copy of the landlord’s W-9 or the landlord’s contact information; the landlord’s accounting of the tenant’s outstanding rent and other fees; and recent pay stubs or tax forms showing income. The state is also asking applicants to upload copies of past-due bills, unemployment payment history and eviction notices, if those are relevant to the person’s case.

A landlord can submit applications on behalf of tenants with their awareness, McDonald said. He also advises renters who apply for funding to stay in communication with landlords throughout the process so the property owner knows money could be coming.

To support the creation of the one-stop portal, Salt Lake City and Utah, Davis and Salt Lake counties combined federal rental assistance dollars with the state, McDonald said. However, the money contributed by Salt Lake City is guaranteed for its residents, and the county funding is similarly set aside for renters in those communities.

Mendenhall said, “The rental assistance here is going to help bridge the gap while we recover as individuals, as families and as communities.”

Correction • 9:15 a.m., March 16, 2021: An earlier version contained outdated information about a monthly cap on rental assistance.