Butler County agency doing more to promote $11.4 million renters assistance: How to get help

The response to Butler County’s $11.4 million COVID-19 rent and utility assistance program has been lukewarm so far so more outreach is planned, including a virtual workshop this weekend.

The county commissioners awarded a contract to Supports to Encourage Low-income Families in March and SELF in turn has partnered with five other non-profits to spread the word about the program and help process applications.

The federal government provided the funds to help people who have fallen behind on their rent due to the coronavirus pandemic. Only rent and utility assistance is available under this latest funding program. SELF Executive Director Jeffrey Diver told the Journal-News they have a dozen billboards countywide advertising the program and the Butler County Real Estate Investors Association (BCREIA) is having a virtual workshop Saturday.

Landlords are not eligible for the funds but Diver said they are a great resource.

“They would know who is behind on their rent,” Diver said. “And if they have a COVID explanation they could refer them to us. Part of the challenge is making sure that we reach those individuals that are struggling with their rent due to COVID-19.”

The COVID Rental Relief Conference 2021 will be held virtually on Saturday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. and people can register for the free event and find out more information at: housingproviderhelp.org.

Since the new program was launched earlier this month, Diver said they have assisted 13 renters and spent $19,290 of the federal funds, they are currently processing 38 applications.

There is about $500 million available to help renters in the southwest region of Ohio, according to a release by the BCREIA, less than half of landlords and a third of renters know about the federal assistance and as of January $70 billion in unpaid rent was due nationwide.

“We know that it is more productive and a better long term solution to prevent the eviction to begin with by simply getting past due rent paid,” BCREIA President Eric Vincent said. “Nobody benefits when the problem is pushed down the road with back rent accumulating and the possibility of creating homelessness when the moratorium is finally lifted,”

The federal government put a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, that ban ends June 30. SELF helped Diamond Reese of Hamilton with almost $4,000 in rent assistance.

“It was amazing I didn’t see it coming,” she said. “I was struggling for most of the year trying to work and being pregnant and still keep up with my bills, because rent wasn’t the only thing I was struggling with. At times I had to pick my poison of what I needed to pay, it was very difficult for me.”

SELF and its partners can pay up to 12 months of rent and utilities back to April 1st, 2020, and 3 months forward. The deadline for expending the money has been extended to Sept. 30, 2022 according to Diver.

There are other restrictions on the money, some imposed by the federal government, and the commissioners added a few of their own. County Administrator Judi Boyko said there are approximately 45,000 rental units countywide and recipients of the relief must be able to demonstrate their inability to pay their rent is due to COVID-19. Eligible renters must make below 80% of the area median income, which equates to earnings of around $45,000 for a family of two.

The commissioners want assurance landlords won’t evict the people after they get their money or raise rent; they want to utilize wrap-around programs the county has to help people get back on their feet, and they want to make sure people understand this is short-term assistance.

SELF already received federal funding to assist both renters and homeowners with their housing and utility bills and have helped more than 700 families keep a roof over their heads. There was an earlier pot of federal money that landlords were able to tap for assistance.

Our news partner the Dayton Daily News found checks went to several landlords of uninhabitable properties. Desmond Maaytah, community development manager for Butler County, said the county did not use the earlier CARES Act funding that had fewer restrictions like Montgomery County did.

“This is different funding than Montgomery County used. These funds are specifically only to be used for rental and utility assistance and have provided some additional guidance on how the program should be operated,” Maaytah said. “Fraud is always a concern with any of these type programs for the Board of Commissioners and they have specifically directed us to monitor these funds closely as part of the Rental Assistance Program.”

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