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Rental assistance program temporarily halts applications

A state program providing rental assistance to tenants struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic is temporarily no longer accepting applicants after reaching its processing capacity.

The Rent Relief and Housing Assistance Program launched in early September and has since received more than 20,000 applications.

However, the influx of applications has overwhelmed Catholic Charities Hawaii and Aloha United Way, which are helping administer the program, and both charities have halted new applications as they work to manage their current backlog.

“They hit their capacity last Friday,” said Kent Miyasaki, spokesman for the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation. “Right now we’re meeting with them daily to figure out how to work through it as quickly as possible.”

The program was set up to disburse $100 million in federal funds — allocated from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act — in monthly payments to landlords of tenants struggling to keep up with rent. Oahu households are eligible for monthly payments of up to $2,000, while households on all other islands are eligible for maximum payments of $1,500 until Dec. 28.

Beginning this month, the program also expanded to provide support for mortgage payments as well as rent, and can backdate payments as far back as March 1.

Miyasaki said the program has so far approved $5.8 million in payouts, although only $2.3 million has actually been distributed.

Part of the reason for the delay in processing applications is the nature of the applications themselves, Miyasaki said: “I think about 60% of the applications have bad information in them.”

Even after ensuring the information in the applications is correct, Miyasaki said another major bottleneck comes from the need to collect proof of hardship from the applicant, as well as making contact with the applicants’ landlords to get their payment information.

The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation will set up a processing center at the Hawaii Convention Center in order to speed up the process, Miyasaki said. However, he did not have information about when either charity will resume accepting applications.

Catholic Charities Hawaii and Aloha United Way removed links from their websites allowing residents to apply for the program online. Neither charity could be reached for comment.

Miyasaki said the Housing Finance and Development Corporation has also changed language on its website that suggested the program could pay out within three to five days. That information was meant to refer to the time between final approval of an application and payout, Miyasaki said, but many thought it referred to the time between submitting an application and payout, so the language was removed to avoid confusion.

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

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