Housing assistance programs fall victim to politics and bureaucracy – NBC10 Philadelphia

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Before the pandemic, Jacqueline Bartley, mother of two girls and a boy, led a comfortable life. Then the 41-year-old lost her job at American Airlines, quickly spent her savings, and found herself months behind on the $ 1,350-per-month house she was renting. Until then, she had never missed a rent payment.

Bartley, of Durham, North Carolina, turned to the state’s rent assistance program and was relieved in January to receive $ 8,100. But she says her landlord turned down the money after rejecting her request to change her two-year lease for a shorter period. The program required landlords to honor leases, among other conditions, to get the money.

She turned to a second program launched this month by the state and was once again approved. Last week, she learned that her landlord had accepted nearly $ 20,000 for arrears of rent and three months of future payments, and agreed to dismiss her eviction lawsuit.

The news means she won’t be forced to leave her home after the federal moratorium on evictions ends on July 31. But the wait and the uncertainty have meant months of stress.

“It’s crazy especially when you have kids in school,” Bartley said. “It was pretty much done on a whim. OK, will I have a place to go each month? “

Millions of people have found themselves in similar situations to Bartley’s, facing possible eviction despite bold promises by governors to help tenants after Congress passed the CARES Act in March 2020.

Nationwide, heads of state set aside at least $ 2.6 billion from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund to support struggling tenants, but a year later, more than 425 millions of dollars of that – or 16% – had not been put into the pockets of tenants or their landlords, according to a survey by the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press.

“It’s mind-boggling,” said Anne Kat Alexander, project manager at Princeton University’s foreclosure lab. “I knew there were problems, but it’s a huge amount of money not to be disbursed on time.

Tens of billions of additional dollars in rent assistance flowed to states by the federal government in 2021, but it has also been slow to disburse.

With the first fundraiser in 2020, bureaucracy wasn’t the only problem. Politics have also played a role, with a handful of states, many of which are Republican-led and with a history of poor tenant protection, offering little to no help.

Then there was the often onerous application process and a federal year-end deadline for spending the money, extended so late that some states had already withdrawn funds to be used for other expenses. Some landlords refused to participate due to restrictions which meant they couldn’t evict a tenant who was late again after help.

The CARES 2020 law of Congress has sent billions of dollars to states and some local governments. But it didn’t require spending money on housing assistance, leaving it to states to create their own programs and set the rules.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s database of rent relief programs in 2020, Georgia, West Virginia and Tennessee, all led by Republican governors, have chosen not to implement a statewide programs in 2020, despite historically above-average eviction rates. South Carolina allocated less than $ 14 per tenant-occupied household that year.

Still, many states have rushed into action, creating massive programs to keep families in their homes – the safest place to shelter during the coronavirus pandemic. In the summer of 2020, state and local authorities launched around 530 rental assistance programs, setting aside at least $ 4.3 billion from various sources.

Several states have been praised for programs that have worked well. Illinois, Indiana, Oregon and Washington state were among more than a dozen that said they distributed every dollar in rent assistance set aside by the Coronavirus Relief Fund as of March 31.

The Center for Public Integrity interviewed about 70 state and local agencies that the National Low Income Housing Coalition identified as having set aside money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund for rent assistance in 2020. About $ 1 in $ 6 of that $ 2.6 billion was spent on other expenses related to COVID-19, such as protective equipment, police salaries and small business loans.

Some states have also spent millions of dollars setting up their programs, including North Carolina, which allocated about $ 20 million for administrative costs, and Hawaii, which spent $ 8 million. In the case of Hawaii, a large chunk of that was used to help nonprofits grow and lease space. The state also spent money on a software system in an attempt to prevent fraud.

Diane Yentel, executive director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said last year’s funding woes led Congress to earmark nearly $ 47 billion specifically for emergency rent assistance in December and March.

“Some states and cities have allocated a portion of these funds to prevent evictions and create emergency rental assistance programs,” said Yentel, whose programs have been monitored by the group. “But many did not or many did not put enough aside.”

One of the biggest challenges was the inability of states to spend what they had allocated.

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency received $ 150 million to help tenants, but returned about $ 96 million to the state treasury, which filled holes in the state’s public safety budget. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation earmarked $ 250 million but returned about $ 99 million to the general treasury to be spent on other programs. Eighty-three percent of Montana’s $ 50 million set aside for rent assistance went back to the state. New York ultimately spent just $ 47.5 million of the $ 100 million promised for rent assistance.

In Athens, Georgia, Dylyn Price said she received around $ 5,800 in rent assistance, but that ended earlier this year and she fears losing her home when her lease expires on Wednesday.

She worries that she will once again be living in a homeless shelter with her 14-year-old son.

“It’s a very smelly and uncomfortable situation,” Price said.

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Casey reported from Boston, Kleiner reported from Washington, DC, and Johnston reported from Brook Park, Ohio. Casey can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ mcasey1. Kleiner can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @bysarahkleiner.

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This story is a collaboration between the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative newsroom in Washington.


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