With future funding uncertain, local emergency rental assistance program returning

‘There still is a great need in our community,” said MVCAP Vice President Erin Jeffries

An emergency rental assistance program created during the pandemic then suspended for months will be up and running again in local counties by the end of this month, according to Miami Valley Community Action Partnership.

MVCAP administers the federally funded program in Montgomery, Greene, Darke, and Preble counties and stopped offering rental assistance in October because of program funding deadlines. The agency has now received $4.3 million in federal funds through the state and is working to begin processing applications.

“This is a brand new program with brand new guidelines that came from different legislation than our old program,” MVCAP Vice President Erin Jeffries said. “It’s just taking us some time to get everything put together so we can stand up a new process.”

The agency is planning at the very least to spend its $4.3 million over the course of 24 months — a significant departure from its previous program.

“The timeline is a little bit longer, and the funding amount is quite a bit less, so we’ll be operating this one a little bit differently,” said Jeffries, who added that the agency is planning to spend only $150,000 a month, as things stand.

“That’s really different from what we did before because, up through September 2022, we were spending about a million a month on direct assistance,” she said.

As MVCAP sets its new program up, agency officials are directing folks who need emergency rental assistance to the State of Ohio’s Home Relief Grant, a system that launched in November that is equally accessible to all residents, regardless of location.

“We’ve heard good things from our customers about the program in terms of the response times that they’re getting, and it seems to be working very well,” Jeffries said.

More funding available?

Ohio lawmakers allocated $161 million more for rental assistance programs across Ohio through House Bill 45, but an issue with the bill’s language makes the effectiveness of its funding uncertain.

The version of HB 45 Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law required funding to only be used on arrearages incurred before Dec. 31, 2021, a line which Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies (OACAA) Executive Director Phil Cole said would make the funding impotent.

Cole said there are no outstanding arrearages from renters incurred before 2022 — “Those are all paid.”

Cole is working with the administration to address this issue, but at this point it’s unclear how it will be resolved.

Department of Development Public Information Officer Megan Nagy said the Department “will take appropriate next steps regarding allocation of the funds.”

‘A great need’

Jeffries said MVCAP is still seeing a significant need for for local emergency rental assistance funding, though it’s lessened since the height of COVID’s economic impact.

“If you go back to summer and fall of 2020, the need was great, and the need remained great for a year or two at least,” Jeffries said. “I really feel, now as we’re entering 2023, that there still is a great need in our community, but it’s not as great as it was at the beginning of the pandemic. It’s kind of leveling off.”

MVCAP is not the only local community action agency to see interruptions in their emergency rental assistance. Butler County’s Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF), for example, is currently in its second pause. Other agencies such as Opportunities of Individual Change of Clark County was able to offer assistance uninterrupted through different funding sources.

MVCAP and SELF had to pause their application intake for different reasons — SELF’s staff was overwhelmed by applications and paused on Dec. 19 to begin working through a backlog, while the MVCAP program’s sole funding pool was cut off through a federal deadline on Sept. 30, 2022.

‘This money won’t last’

SELF spokesperson Rachel Sheets said her agency has seen many residents who are struggling with “complications that build up over time.” Those complications can be any combination of time off work due to illness, the increased cost of living brought on by the pandemic’s economic impact, or higher utility bills.

“Every situation is unique that people are facing. We’re noticing that no two situations are exactly the same, but there are definitely people who are struggling still,” Sheets said. “We’re in calendar year three of this and there’s still a lot of struggle.”

Clark County OIC Executive Director Mike Calabrese said it was “difficult to assess” how Clark County’s level of need has changed as its residents try to move on from the pandemic. Calabrese cited large spikes in rental costs and the rising costs of consumer goods driving the need today.

“This money won’t last at the rate that we’re going,” Calabrese said.

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