City’s Rental Relief Fund Continues Through a Slow Rollout

The City’s Rental Relief Fund – bolstered by more than $8 million in funds – appears to still be suffering from a slow rollout and difficulty in qualifying and getting money to those in need, that revealed during a Council hearing conducted by Councilor Lydia Edwards on Tuesday morning.

Councilor Edwards had been very irritated in May when the first round of the Rental Relief Fund debuted and few actually qualified and not much money went out the door during a time when it was perceived to be a rental and landlord emergency due to COVID-19.

Now, after some modifications championed by Edwards and other councilors, a second round has transpired, but still not many have been able to access the funding.

According to Taylor Cain of the Office of Housing Stability, still only $1.9 million has been given out on the program which looks to help renters and, in particular, small landlords through the continued payment of rent. The program does not serve those already receiving housing subsidies, and was created to hit those in the workforce suffering job loss or hour reduction.

In the second round, some 5,000 had entered for help, but only 1,259 were able to return forms to be in the lottery. Of those, 654 were deemed eligible, and 353 are still in processing due to missing materials or documents. Some 224 were ineligible.

There are 567 households citywide that have benefitted from the program.

Edwards said she remains committed to working with the administration in getting the program right, but does remain somewhat frustrated.

“I want to know how we can close the gap,” she said. “With $8 million allocated, we’ve given out a quarter of it – $2 million. It could be because people are getting unemployment, or they calmed down with the eviction freeze or they moved. I just want to know if we can do anything to close this gap and give our more of the money.”

Chris Norris, director of Metro Boston Housing, said as a partner in the program with the City, they are in discussions with that right now. He said they are having similar issues with the RAFT rental assistance program statewide.

Overall, there seems to be too much red tape with the program, Councilors indicated, and it was noted that streamlining the application and the process were key to getting more qualified people to benefit.

Some of the modifications that are being looked at for a potential third round of funding include allowing landlords to intervene and apply for tenants. Other changes would be for the lottery system to be eliminated.

“I’ve been a passionate advocate for us to get that money out the door and serve more people as they come to us,” said Dominique Williams, of the Office of Housing Stability. “I think moving away from a lottery system, especially for a third round, is probably the way to go.”

Councilor Edwards said she is committed to working with the program managers to make it work better and get more people to benefit.

“I committed on day one and during the hearing to connect my district to those resources,” she said. “My district has gotten the most rental relief of the 567 households. Still we will work with OHS and have them preset throughout the community to walk more renters and even home owners through all forms of relief.”

Of those who have qualified and have benefitted, there are six in Charlestown and 219 in East Boston.

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