States struggle to give out over $ 45 billion in rental assistance as evictions continue

Matthew Turner (on the right) and his husband, Gerard.

Photo: Matthew Turner

Since Matthew Turner was laid off in October, he estimates he’s applied to close to 600 jobs, with no luck.

Nearly as difficult has been his hunt for rental assistance.

Turner’s contacted many local organizations in North Carolina where he lives, but has been denied or left on waitlists by all of them. He and his husband, Gerard, have depleted their savings and don’t know how they’re going to come up with May’s rent for their Raleigh apartment.

“It’s incredibly stressful,” Turner, 48, said. “You don’t know what else to do.”

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Congress has allocated a total of more than $ 45 billion in rental assistance after the coronavirus pandemic cost millions of Americans their jobs and left as many as 1 in 5 renters unable to keep up with their housing payments, including close to a third of African American renters .

However, the rollout of the relief funds isn’t coming fast enough for many, and evictions continue despite a national ban on the proceedings.

So far, states and their local programs are in the process of distributing $ 16 billion of the $ 25 billion in rental assistance passed in December, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

In May, the Department of the Treasury will begin sending to states and localities the additional $ 21 billion in rental assistance allocated in March’s stimulus package.

As of early April, three months after the $ 25 billion in relief was passed, some 20 states have yet to open a program to give out the aid.

That has left tenants across the country stuck in line for the assistance.

“Wait times for rent relief in Massachusetts are still weeks to months,” said Helen Matthews, communications manager at City Life / Vida Urbana, a nonprofit in Boston.

The delays are due to the fact that states are figuring out how to distribute an unprecedented amount of money, experts say. In addition, housing advocates say that some states are unnecessarily slowing things by imposing arduous documentation requirements for tenants to qualify.

A report published this month on Texas’ rent relief program found that out of more than 176,000 people who’ve begun applying for financial assistance there, only 250 applications have been approved with payments sent out.

“If it takes you 45 days to get money, and 44 days to get evicted, what was the point of the money?” said Mark A. Melton, a lawyer who has been representing tenants pro bono during the pandemic.

“It’s like drowning in the ocean and being 12 inches away from a lifeline, but no one is helping to push it your way.”

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