Rental assistance available after nearly a year of pandemic, here’s what you need to know to apply

Updated: Mar. 1, 2021 at 6:25 AM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Help for landlords and their tenants who are struggling to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic is now available across the state of Alabama.

As of 8 a.m. on Monday, March 1, applications will open on the Emergency Rental Assistance Alabama website and people will begin to apply for their share of the $25 million Alabama has been granted by the U.S. government. The Alabama Housing Finance Authority is working to distribute the money.

Only certain applicants will be eiligible for this money, though.

  • You have to have a valid and current rental agreement.
  • The household of those applying must have an income at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), as defined by the Alabama Housing and Finance Authority.
  • One or more of the people in the household must qualify for unemployment benefits or have proof the reason they have struggled to pay rent is due to the pandemic.
  • There also needs to be proof of possible eviction, past due utility or rent notice or living in unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions.

If you qualify for these standards, you can apply for money for any unpaid rent or utility bills going back to March 13, 2020.

Examples of hardships created by COVID-19 include being laid off, the place you work closed, your hours went down, loss of spouse, you can’t find work because of the pandemic, staying home with kids because of childcare or school or unable to work due to risk of illness.

Relief money has to be applied for in three month increments. Once you get your first payment, you can apply for three more months if there is money still available.

Sarah Taggart, a Huntsville attorney, said landlords and tenants will need to work together on these applications because it requires consent from both parties.

“This is actually something that needs to be done collaboratively, because a landlord is going to have a great deal of difficulty applying for this assistance without the tenant’s signature and the tenant needs the landlords agreement in order to process and apply for this application,” Taggart said.

She said the preferred applicant is actually the landlord, not the tenant, and all payments will be made directly to the landlord or utility provider unless the recipient refuses.

Taggart also said the applications need to be done in one sitting and you need to be prepared with proof of income and a valid lease or other written documentation of landlord-tenant relationship.

Taggart said once applications start rolling in, she’s been told it will take about 2-3 weeks to process them and then money will begin to be handed out.

These rental assistance funds aren’t quite first-come, first-serve though, there is a prioritization process.

AHFA will review applications and commit money to two priority groups: households with income at or below 50% area media income or households with one or more people unemployed at the date of application and 90 days prior.

There is one important distinction for people in Baldwin, Madison, Mobile, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, and Jefferson Counties, and the cities of Huntsville and Birmingham. People in those areas have all been given their own pool of money and will have a separate application process.

But, people in those areas can apply for the general state pool of money through the end of March.

In Madison County, District 6 County Commissioner Violet Edwards is handling the roll out of the Madison County rental assistance money.

Per Samuel Greene, the Director of Outreach for District 6, an announcement will be made on Wednesday, March 3 as to how rental assistance will be distributed in Madison County.

For people in Madison County, Greene said you can apply for the state money, but you can’t double dip. So, you need to decide if you want to apply for the state pool or wait for the Madison County application process to begin.

If you have any further questions about the application process or anything to do with ERA Alabama, they have a call center ready to answer your questions at 1-833-620-2434, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Taggart said it’s great to have this rental assistance and it will help many people, but there are some renters and landlords who have been negatively effected by the pandemic who will not get help.

She said since you need to have a current lease, people who may owe their landlord rent from earlier in the pandemic but do not live in that landlord’s property anymore cannot access this money.

”So, say you owe a landlord $4,000 or $5,000 from the three or four months you couldn’t pay during the height of the pandemic, but you’re not living there anymore, you can’t go after this assistance,” Taggart said.

Under the eviction moratorium you could still be kicked out of your apartment for violating the rules of the lease, if a lease expires or if you just turned ion your keys. Now, you may still owe your former landlord money but you can’t access this rental assistance.

Taggart said she’s hopeful there will be money leftover in the rental assistance find that can go to these people who owe their landlords money but don’t have a current lease.

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