Agencies throughout Monroe County, in partnership with the City of Rochester, are encouraging residents to take advantage of available rent-relief funding to prevent evictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren announced that the city and county combined had received more than $39 million in funds for rental assistance. These funds will provide direct rent relief payments to landlords on behalf of eligible tenants who have been economically impacted by the pandemic.
The funds will be distributed through the Eviction Prevention Pilot Initiative 2.0, which comprises 13 nonprofit agencies contracted by the city and county to assist individuals in completing their applications for rental assistance. These eviction-prevention and homeless-services organizations in the Rochester community — including The Housing Council at PathStone and Providence Housing Development Corp. — have been working in partnership with other agencies to help qualified applicants receive funding for overdue rent due to COVID-19 hardship.
Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo enacted an eviction moratorium during the pandemic and recently extended it to Aug. 20, agencies are preparing for a surge of eviction notices, which threaten to overwhelm the community’s capacity to provide human services to families.
“We foresee that the moratoriums have done a great job in preventing an immediate homelessness crisis, but it’s also meant that folks feel that they have more time (to address it) while they’re addressing some of their other immediate concerns,” said Mary Leo, executive director at The Housing Council at PathStone.
According to Leo, while the eviction moratorium provides protection to keep people in their homes, it’s not curing or solving people’s housing issues. She added that the closures of eviction and foreclosure courts during the pandemic does not mean an individual is no longer at risk of negative financial ramifications in regard to housing.
“Since tenants are not faced with the immediate concern of losing their housing, they are not addressing the financial problem at hand, thus falling further behind on either rental or mortgage payments. This is creating a more complex issue,” Leo explained.
She said that’s why residents are being encouraged to reach out for help now to maintain housing for the long term rather than focusing on the short-term housing solution the moratorium is providing.
One way to reach out for help is by calling The Housing Council’s Housing Hotline at 585-546-3700. The hotline offers individuals a chance to obtain answers to general housing questions, as well as advice on tenant and landlord issues. The hotline is staffed by housing counselors who are certified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide information on basic tenant rights and to offer advice to landlords seeking guidance.
Another way to find help is by calling 211 to begin the process of applying for emergency rental assistance. The process begins with a caller being screened and connected with the appropriate agency.
According to Leo, the screening process includes such simple questions as income. She said a person’s income is asked for so the individual can be connected to an agency that can allocate requested aide from either the Eviction Prevention Pilot Initiative 2.0 fund or that of the Eviction Prevention Pilot Initiative 1.0 fund, which still has money available for distribution.
Unlike Eviction Prevention Pilot Initiative 1.0, the second round of the program permits a landlord to apply for relief on behalf of a tenant who gives consent.
The new option allows a landlord to assist with or initiate the application by working directly with a community-based organization to gather the required documents needed to receive funding vs. putting all the work directly onto the tenant.
“Landlords were relying on those rental payments to be made to be able to cover their own bills and their own costs, so they had an immediate need to see those funds be allocated, whereas tenants may have had a lot on their plate at that time and just weren’t ready to apply,” said Leo.
When Eviction Prevention Pilot Initiative 2.0 launched in April, the city selected Providence as the community organization to assist landlords through the rental-assistance application process. This means landlords who call 211 are directed straight to Providence to begin the process.
Since then, Providence has approved $1 million in funds to landlords according, to the grants program director, Tree Clemonds.
“The need (for rental assistance) is there, and that is what the community is seeing,” Clemonds said. “It’s unfortunate, but the people are out there. There are so many things that have impacted people that I don’t think everyone thinks of.”
Certain situations, such as an individual contracting COVID-19 and missing work, could result in a decrease in income, while kids being home from school could cause expenses for such things as electricity.
“We’re all putting in an enormous amount of effort, the city, the county. We’re really trying to do what we can as quickly as we can to get it all (funds) out there, because the need is not decreasing or slowing down,” Clemonds said.
“Some of these resources are being underutilized,” added Leo, “A lot of the funding that’s available right now is tied to the coronavirus pandemic and needs to be utilized, so it’s important to act now.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Landlords can email Providence Housing Development Corp. directly at Eppi.firstname.lastname@example.org, which is monitored by several employees who will provide landlords with applications and instructions to begin the process. There also is a portal for landlords that can be accessed through Providence’s website, where landlords can obtain guidance on how to effectively navigate the process.