Just a fraction of the $34 million available for rental assistance in the county had been spent as of mid-June, and housing advocates and county officials say the tough federal guidelines that applicants must follow is slowing the delivery of aid.
As of June 22, only $2.2 million in rental, utility and court cost assistance had been paid to 364 county residents, according to information on Lancaster County Housing Authority's website. And another $625,000 is scheduled to go out this week, according to Justin Eby, the agency's executive director, who briefed county commissioners on the program on Tuesday morning.
A total of 2,272 individuals have applied for assistance, but roughly half of those did not provide any supporting documents, and another quarter provided some but not all required documents. Federal rules prohibit aid from being provided until all required paperwork is submitted and reviewed.
Still, on Tuesday Eby asked the commissioners to approve the release of more money for the program. The county released an initial $4 million to the authority in April and agreed the authority would return with updates on the program each time it needed another disbursement.
At a sometimes contentious county commissioners meeting last week, commissioners were peppered with questions from attendees, several of whom were affiliated with the progressive activist group Lancaster StandsUp, about why only a relatively small amount of funds had been expended. They also complained about the difficultly applicants face to obtain funds and questioned what was being done to prevent evictions when the CDC’s moratorium expires.
“Recently I got an eviction notice. … I applied for (the program),” a woman who identified herself as Amy said at last week’s meeting. “It’s a lot of paperwork for the tenants, I don’t think we realize how much.”
Commissioner Ray D’Agostino responded that the documentation requirements are set by the federal government and the county does not have the ability to revise them. Eby made the same point in an interview with LNP| LancasterOnline last week.
“There's no way around it, we have to show that there is a lease,” Eby said. “We have to show there is a rental obligation.”
The authority sends texts and emails to individuals who submit incomplete applications, Eby said, in hopes of helping them qualify for aid. And the authority partners with 18 organizations spread around the county that can assist applicants A full list of those organizations can be found at lchra.com
Applicants who fell behind on rent or utilities as a result of losing work and income due to the coronavirus pandemic have until September 30, 2022, to apply for funds through the program.
According to Eby, the federal government is expected to evaluate the housing assistance program in September, but no decision has been made on what will happen to unspent funds.