More than $170 million is federal funding is available to eligible Arkansans.
A moratorium on evictions issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided some relief to Arkansans impacted by the pandemic. However, after several extensions, the pause on evictions is set to end Saturday.
Although the temporary ban ends this weekend, rental assistance will still be available through the Arkansas Rent Relief Program. Applications opened May 17 and as of July 24, more than $2.27 million of $173 million in funding has been processed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services. The funding is provided by the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program through the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Distribution of the funding has been “slower than expected,” said Lorie Williams, Division of County Operations Assistant Director for the Office of Community Services. Both the landlord and tenant have to complete forms for this program and verifying information from both parties is causing delays in the approval process.
“There has been some slowness there in making sure both the landlord and tenant understand their requirements so we’ve been doing additional training, additional networking, providing more information to them to show exactly how the process works so it can speed up things,” Williams said.
In addition to updating the user guide on its website, Williams said DHS has also worked with local agencies like libraries, utility companies, landlord associations and churches to help disseminate information. This is particularly important in reaching people who may not have internet access.
“We’re just beefing up everything trying to make everyone aware of the program because we definitely want to spend the money,” Williams said. “We definitely want the people to get served that need the help.”
The $2.27 million in payments covers 844 households. Arkansans have submitted approximately 7,200 applications which are a mix of tenant and landlord submissions that need to be matched before they can be paid, DHS spokesman Gavin Lesnick said.
Once all completed documentation has been received from landlords and tenants, the application is reviewed for approval within 10 to 14 business days. Notification is sent to the tenant and landlord that the application is approved, and the check is processed, he said.
The program runs through Dec. 31, but DHS has been asked to distribute 65 percent of the funding by the end of September. Given the current pace of distribution in Arkansas, Williams doesn’t expect the state will hit that threshold by the deadline. The funding could be redistributed to other states, Williams said, but DHS has not received additional guidance from federal officials confirming what, if anything, will happen to the unused funding.
“There is definitely a need” for rental assistance Williams said and it extends beyond Arkansas to the country as a whole. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute, recently analyzed Census data and reported the housing crisis is affecting a wide range of renters including people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants and people with less education.
Twenty percent — one in five families — reported their household was behind on rent, according to data collected Apr. 14 to May 24. That number jumped to 21 percent for Latino families, 25 percent for Asian families and 28 percent of Black families.
Families seeking assistance through the Arkansas Rent Relief program can use the funds to help cover past due rent, future rent and certain utilities such as water, electricity and gas. Payment assistance can be used for up to 15 months of rent and utilities incurred between Apr. 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2021.
Funding is available for those who meet the following criteria:
- Someone in the household qualifies for unemployment benefits.
- Household income decreased during the pandemic.
- Someone in the household suffered significant financial hardship due to the pandemic.
- Meet income eligibility based on the residing county (Area Median Income) and number of people in the household.
Benton County, Pulaski County and Washington County have their own rental assistance programs and residents are asked to apply directly to those. To assist with the application process, DHS is working with community partners who can provide help at the local level. A list of those partners is available here.
Arkansans can also call 855-RENT-ARK for questions or assistance. The hotline is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Renters and landlords can also find more information or apply online at ar.gov/rentrelief.