COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Richland County renters searching for relief from past due and unpaid rent or utility bills may qualify for a COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
The $12.5 million grant from the U.S. Treasury aims to help stabilize housing and provide peace of mind to vulnerable renters.
The program will provide up to 12 months of rental and utility assistance for eligible households. An additional three months of funds are available if needed to ensure housing stability.
District 7 Richland County Councilwoman, Gretchen Barron, said the program is a sigh of relief for many residents who have found themselves in a cycle of being behind on their rent or utility payments.
“We’ve been hit so hard over the last year,” Barron said. “Now having this reprieve that will help with the rent as well as utilities; I was very excited.”
Funding must be used to reduce the household’s rental and utility arrears before future rent and utility payments can be made. Once rental and utility arrears are reduced, future rent and utility payments for up to three months at a time can be considered.
“Maybe they’ve missed some payments, gotten an eviction notice from a landlord, or are just struggling to make ends meet,” Chris Winston, SC Housing Spokesperson, said. “A lot of our population in South Carolina are in industries that were hit really hard by the pandemic -- tourism, retail, the restaurant industry.”
ERAP will not provide assistance that duplicates any other federally funded rental and utility assistance provided for the same time period.
To be eligible, a household must be renting or have rented during the COVID-19 pandemic and include at least one individual who fits each of the following criteria:
- Qualifies for unemployment or has seen a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship because of COVID-19.
- Demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability.
- Has an annual household income at or below 80% of Richland County’s area median income (AMI).
The money comes from a $346 million pot the federal government allocated for renters assistance in South Carolina. Seven counties with more than 200,000 residents qualified to receive their own allocation of the assistance, including Richland County.
“So what you saw were seven counties that represented about $74 million of what was individually given out,” Winston said.
Households with incomes at or below 50% of AMI will be prioritized. Priority will also be given to eligible households that include at least one person who has been unemployed for 90 days before they apply for assistance.
Information on AMI and household income limits for Richland County is available online.
Barron said her priority is making sure it goes to those who need it most.
“My concern now, as we’ve seen across the country when these programs become available -- the funds are gone away within 24 or 48 hours,” Barron said. “They’ve been expended. Now my concern is for that renter or that small landlord who only has one or two pieces of property, making sure they have a fair chance at getting these funds.”
Beginning April 5, applications will be accepted from eligible renters or from owners/landlords and/or utility providers on behalf of renters. Funds generally will be paid directly to landlords and/or utility providers unless the landlord/utility provider does not want to participate.
To ensure they can quickly provide all required information at the time of their program application, applicants should be prepared to provide the following information:
- Name and contact information.
- Address –Household applicants must reside in rental property within Richland County.
- Status –renter or landlord?
- Copy of an applicable lease agreement or self-attestation in the absence of a lease agreement.
- Household Income –must be below 80% AMI.
- Rental/utility payment status
- In arrears or prospective?
- Impact of COVID-19?
- Is there economic hardship? How?
- Is there a risk of homelessness or housing instability? How?
For more information about the program or the application process, click here.