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Kent County prepares to launch rental assistance program for people impacted by pandemic

Kent County prepares to launch rental assistance program for people impacted by pandemic
Posted at 10:52 PM, Mar 27, 2021

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — Help for renters facing pandemic-related hardships is coming, offering tenants the ability to catch up on their monthly payments.

“Households have really been reaching out, trying to figure out how they can get help,” said Courtney Myers-Keaton, director of the Grand Rapids Coalition to End Homelessness.

The Grand Rapids Coalition to End Homelessness and a handful of other area-partner agencies are gearing up to launch Kent County’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program (CERA).

The goal is to help tenants impacted by coronavirus avoid eviction while also ensuring landlords can recoup owed rent.

Statewide, $282 million is available, of which $39 million has been allocated to Kent County. According to the Michigan Housing Development Authority, another $340 million can be appropriated by the state legislature.

The funding comes from the second coronavirus relief package passed by Congress in December. Money from the most recent stimulus bill is expected to possibly extend the program through 2022.

“We know that there’s a lot of people who are underemployed or have lost their jobs as a result of COVID and have had increased childcare costs and other costs, medical costs, things like that,” said Myers-Keaton. “This is really going to provide them an opportunity to get current, to feel stable, and to really move forward.”

To qualify, a person must be a renter with an active lease who is experiencing a financial hardship due to the pandemic. Renters must also make 80 percent or less of the area median income, which is about $64,000. Help for utilities is also available.

Myers-Keaton says the money can pay for any rent within the last 12 months, including three months of future assistance. She says while it’s hard to gauge how many people are behind on their rent and utilities in the area, it’s estimated this program could help 5,000-9,000 households.

Last year, the state assisted 16,000 homes through an eviction-diversion program. Myers-Keaton says while helpful, its limited scope prevented a larger number of people from being helped. She believes the wider eligibility criteria through CERA will be able to assist more people.

“Just a year ago, we were in an executive order to stay at home, and so, if you can imagine, if you can’t stay at home because you don’t have a home, where are you supposed to go to?” asked Myers-Keaton. “It protects our public health, it prevents further transmission, and then, also ideally, it’s going to stabilize the households enough so that they’re able to increase their income again and won’t be at risk for homelessness in the future.”

Applications for CERA in Kent County open April 1.

To apply, click here.

For more information on CERA, click here.

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