A countywide rental assistance program has issued more than $4 million to county residents and will be extended until the middle of next year.
The Hawaii County Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which began in April, will seek additional funding in order to continue operating until the end of June 2022, said Jeff Gilbreath, executive director of Hawaii Community Lending, which is administering the program.
Gilbreath said in July that the program was going slower than expected, having only received a little more than 400 applications. Since then, however, the program has found new life. There were more than 1,500 applicants as of last week, and $4.2 million has been awarded so far.
According to the National Equity Atlas, an estimated 1,763 households in the county are behind on rent.
“I think the lead-up to the end of the eviction moratorium, and a bit of marketing, is what gave people the kick they needed,” Gilbreath said Friday.
The program allows residential renters under certain income thresholds to apply for rent and utility assistance grants via several Big Island nonprofits in order to help pay unpaid past rent and utility bills as far back as March 13, 2020, or current and future rent up to three months. Applicants are eligible for up to 15 months worth of grant payments.
Gilbreath said HCL is in the process of securing $10.4 million in county funds to sustain the program.
Should the program spend 65% of those funds by December, the program will be eligible for a second batch of federal Emergency Rental Assistance money, which Gilbreath said should keep the program going through next June.
So far, only 661 applications have been approved, and 532 have been denied — although 128 of those denials were because of duplicate applications.
The most prevalent reason for disapproval has been applicants failing to respond to follow-up inquiries. Gilbreath said the program is working on providing additional guidance for users.
Gov. David Ige’s prohibition on evicting renters for failing to pay rent was scheduled to end earlier this month, but an order from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has halted residential evictions in communities with “substantial or high levels of community transmission of COVID-19,” which applies to nearly every county in the state, including Hawaii County.
That CDC order expires after a county no longer has substantial or high levels of community COVID transmission for 14 consecutive days, or on Oct. 3.
Gilbreath said he anticipates a flood of evictions whenever the moratorium officially lifts, and is worried about renters’ options.
“We’ve been finding that, when people are becoming houseless, there’s not much stock available at any kind of affordable price,” Gilbreath said. “Landlords can start to increase again in October, and that’s going to make the market even more unaffordable.”
Landlords are prohibited from raising rent during a state of emergency. The current COVID-related state of emergency is scheduled to expire Oct. 4, although it could very well be extended again.
Gilbreath said he is in talks with Mayor Mitch Roth and the county administration to seek “creative solutions” to the impending crisis, and said he expects an announcement will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.
Detailed information about the program, including how to apply, can be found at tinyurl.com/5x7dazc6.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald