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Rent relief program off to slow start: Only 423 applications approved, despite looming end of eviction moratorium

More than $2 million in grants have been awarded to Hawaii County residents seeking rent relief, but more work needs to be done before Gov. David Ige’s eviction moratorium ends next month.

The county’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program provides grants to low-income renters on the island who have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to help pay rent or utility bills. According to data from the National Equity Atlas, 2,836 households in the county are estimated to be behind on rent.

The average payout from the program is $3,673, which is not much less than the National Equity Atlas’ estimated average per household rent debt of $3,995.

However, only 423 applications for Hawaii County’s ERAP program have been approved since the program started in mid-April, and another 389 applications having been rejected.

Jeff Gilbreath, executive director of Hawaii Community Lending, which is administering the program, conceded that the program has started slow, but added that the county’s rent recovery is on a similar pace with the nationwide average.

Gilbreath said he projects that the ERAP program eventually will meet the current cumulative rent debt in the county — about $11 million — but that will not likely happen before Aug. 6, when Ige’s moratorium on evictions for missed rent payments ends.

“It’s hard to tell what will happen after that,” Gilbreath said. “Some people might not take any steps for rental relief until they have an eviction notice. But I definitely anticipate an increase in applications after the moratorium ends.”

The program has $21.5 million available, which should be more than enough to meet the county’s unmet rent needs. But Gilbreath pointed out that the program has to allocate all of its funds by the end of September, so the clock is ticking.

However, Gilbreath added that applicants can have rent through the end of December covered by the program as long if they apply before the end of September.

Gilbreath said the program needs to increase its outreach efforts, particularly to underserved portions of the population, such as those with limited English language skills, who might not even be aware of the program. According to the National Equity Atlas, 87% of people in Hawaii behind on rent are nonwhite, while program data indicates that 358 of the 1,170 applications submitted were from Native Hawaiians.

Meanwhile, Gilbreath said he is working with the six nonprofits partnering with HCL to improve communication with applicants to prevent needless rejections — 107 of the nearly 400 rejected applications were turned down because the applicant did not submit all the necessary documents or otherwise failed to respond to follow-up questions.

Detailed information about the program, including how to apply, can be found at tinyurl.com/5x7dazc6.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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