Eligible households can use the funding to pay past due or future rental payments.
The Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation is extending eligibility for its Emergency Rental Assistance Program to Cherokee citizens in Benton, Crawford and Washington counties. Cherokee Nation citizens living across Oklahoma or in the Kansas counties of Chautauqua, Cherokee, Labette or Montgomery are also eligible.
“We’re always looking for ways to serve Cherokees outside of our reservation,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “We know the need is there particularly due to COVID. So as we looked at the participation in our rental assistance program it’s certainly true that there’s high demand in the reservation, but we felt like we had enough budget room with the funds that came down to extend into the areas adjacent to our reservation.”
The Cherokee Nation enrolled its 400,000th tribal citizen Sept. 28. Officials have received a record number of citizen applications after Hoskin announced earlier this year the tribe is providing a $2,000 COVID-19 assistance payment to all enrolled Cherokee citizens along with those who receive approved citizenship status by June 2022.
Cherokee Nation citizens are spread across the United States with about 140,000 living in the Cherokee Nation Reservation in northeast Oklahoma. An estimated 13,000 to 14,000 citizens live in Arkansas. Approximately 4,000 households have applied for the rental assistance program and about 30 of those applications have come from Arkansas.
“That number’s encouraging because we haven’t of course operated in the state of Arkansas in terms of offering these kinds of services before and so not surprisingly it’s taking a little while to penetrate the market to make sure people understand that this service is available,” Hoskin said. “Hopefully as it goes on even more people will apply.”
Officials extended eligibility for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to Cherokee Nation citizens living outside of the reservation in late September. In total, officials have distributed approximately $6 million in rental assistance funding.
Eligible renter households that have suffered financial hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic can apply for assistance to cover a portion of past due or future rent. The program’s funding comes from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s allocation of emergency rental assistance to states, U.S. territories and tribes.
Additional funding is available for both new applicants and previous recipients. Eligibility criteria include having a least one household member who is a Cherokee Nation citizen and having a household income that does not exceed 80 percent of the Area Median Income. First preference will be given to households below 50 percent Area Median Income.
“This is a program that continues to bring much-needed relief for renters to stay in their homes as well as landlords who have been hard-hit by the economic effects of the pandemic,” said Jerri Ann Killer, Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation interim director. “I believe we’ve made some significant strides to a strong recovery. The recovery began with making sure everyone has safe and stable housing. This program continues to ensure people can stay in their homes once the pandemic has ended.”
In parts of the reservation, the need is almost persistent in terms of some of the housing challenges, Hoskin said. For some families, affording housing has been a long-term issue that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic’s impact on the economy as well as an increase in rental costs.
“The need is great. I think it’s going to continue to be great as the economy adjusts, but I also think it’s causing us to look and focus more sharply on what the underlying issues concerning housing security are throughout our reservation,” Hoskin said.
In addition to emergency rental assistance, the Cherokee Nation is also investing in job training for citizens living in the reservation as well as in bordering counties in Northwest Arkansas, southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas. Officials recently announced Cherokee Nation is investing an additional $29 million over the next three years to provide vocational training in skilled trades such as health care, construction and information technology to citizens who’ve lost jobs during the pandemic.
Cherokee Nation citizens have an expectation that their government will provide some type of support irrespective of where they live, but there’s a limit to what can be done given there are Cherokees across the country, Hoskin said. However, it makes sense to reach out incrementally into adjacent communities with a significant population of Cherokees. Through the vocational training initiative and rental assistance program, the Cherokee Nation can help lift up individuals, which helps lift up the economy.
“We appreciate the opportunity to serve in Arkansas and I think this needs to be the beginning of a longer term conversation about how we can engage more with our thousands of citizens in the great state of Arkansas,” Hoskin said.
Applications and more information about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program is available on the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation’s website. You can also reach HACN by calling 918-456-5482 ext. 1135.