OGDEN — Nearly $400,000 has been earmarked to help Weber County residents impacted by COVID-19, out of work and struggling to pay their rent.
But whether the money actually gets spent remains a question mark given the restrictions on who may tap into the funding, according to Andi Beadles, who heads the Weber Housing Authority. She has her doubts, noting that just five people successfully applied for funding through the program in April and May.
Beadles hopes the state takes a closer look at the guidelines “and revamps the requirements of the program,” opening it up to more people. The funds come thanks to the federal CARES Act, the initiative aimed at helping countering the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The money is funneled to Weber County through the state.
As is, about $384,000 is available through the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, as it’s known. Of that, $100,000 was awarded to the Weber Housing Authority, or WHA, and $284,000 more was granted to the Ogden-Weber Community Action Partnership, or OWCAP. OWCAP has taken over administration of the initiative, Beadles said.
Per program guidelines, funding is meant for those who have contracted COVID-19 and lost their jobs or otherwise lost employment “as a result of the pandemic,” according to guidelines on the WHA website. Recipients also must have applied for unemployment benefits with the state and been denied. Those who qualify may tap the program for help with up to three rental payments of a maximum $1,500 each, or $4,500 in all. Homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages aren’t eligible.
Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer described the program as a stopgap for those in need.
“We are very concerned about the welfare of our county residents during this difficult time. The purpose of the rental assistance program is to help those who have nowhere else to go, those who have exhausted all other resources and need help,” he said in a statement.
In fact, there does appear to be a big demand among many in Weber County for help keeping up with their housing costs. Calls for help to 211, the telephone hotline managed by United Way of Salt Lake for those in need, reflect a spike in calls for questions and help on housing issues. Between May 10 and June 9, the latest figures immediately available, calls to 211 on housing concerns represented 48.9% of all calls from Weber County, up from 23.1% of the total in the same period last year.
“Loss of jobs, drops in income and other strains have caused people to be unable to pay their rent. Finding affordable housing has been a challenge for families in our community anyway, COVID-related issues have only compounded the problem,” Julie Johnson, director of community resources for United Way of Northern Utah, said in an email.
Beadles said her office has been receiving perhaps 30 phone queries a week from people struggling to keep up with housing payments given the current economic situation. She understands OWCAP officials, who didn’t immediately respond to queries from the Standard-Examiner, are getting even more.
Still, the pool of those impacted by coronavirus who have lost their jobs and also been denied unemployment benefits may be narrow, according to Beadles.
Beadles isn’t aware of other programs specifically geared to those struggling to pay rent and suggested those needing help talk to their landlords to explain their situation. She understands some landlords have been more willing than normal to cut their tenants some slack given the current economic situation.