Here is how you can get rental help because million$ await

There are millions of dollars out there if you’re a renter or a landlord in Jefferson County who needs help paying the bills because of COVID-19. And, you’re not alone either.

An estimated 211,000 households in Kentucky are unable to pay rent and are at risk of eviction, according to an analysis by Stout, which uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources. And between 24,200 to 36,300 of those are probably in Louisville. (Marilyn Harris with Louisville Metro’s Office of Housing estimates that 20% to 30% of Louisville renter households are delinquent.)

And, as of Aug. 1, Kentucky landlords may move to evict tenants for the first time since April when the state Supreme Court ordered them suspended, according to Stewart Pope, the advocacy director for Louisville’s Legal Aid Society, and Ben Carter, senior litigation and advocacy counsel for the Kentucky Equal Justice Center. But, county sheriffs are not allowed to carry out evictions until Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency orders are lifted.

Note: If your landlord receives federal assistance, they might not be able to evict you or charge late fees (for now) because of the federal CARES Act. The Root Cause Research Center has created an online tool to check if you live in one of these developments, which can be found at rootcauseresearch.org/coveredundercares.

Pope’s organization provides free legal aid to tenants being evicted, but first and foremost, he advises tenants pursue rental assistance. “There is money out there to pay the rent,” he said.

With the help of Neighborhood Place, a partnership between community residents and Louisville Metro agencies, the city is distributing $21.2 million in federal CARES act funding and millions more from the ONE Louisville COVID-19 Response Fund to renters and landlords who meet certain requirements. The Association of Community Ministries is also giving out money for tenants, albeit a smaller amount than the government can.

All said, there is funding available for only one-third of all tenants in Louisville who need rental assistance, according to an analysis done by Harris. But, only a fraction of those eligible have applied. Around 100 tenants have been helped by Neighborhood Place. And Harris’ department has only received 13 requests for money from landlords.

Here is a guide on how to receive rental assistance, based on a Metropolitan Housing Coalition webinar featuring Harris, Neighborhood Place Program Manager Cassandra Miller and South Louisville Community Ministries Director Clare Wallace. For ease, we’ll leave out how to apply for the ONE Louisville Fund, because its requirements are more stringent, and you get less money for applying.

Am I eligible?

To receive Metro government’s rental assistance, from Neighborhood Place, you have to make 80% of the area’s median income, or below $61,000 per year for a family of four. You also have to be able to prove a loss of income due to COVID-19.

If you don’t meet these requirements, however, you can visit stopmyeviction.org and fill out a form, after which an intake coordination team will see if there is any rental assistance available to you. Community Ministries has fewer restrictions for applicants than Metro government. But, it doesn’t give out as much money.

As for landlords, you have to have received some form of federal, state or local government assistance to rehabilitate, acquire or renovate your property to be eligible for money from Metro government. That assistance includes low income housing tax credits; money from the state or local Affordable Housing Trust Fund; local Louisville Creating Affordable Residences for Economic Success (CARES) funds; or some other form of federal assistance, including Community Development Block Grants or HOME Investment Partnerships Program grants.

How do I get started?

You can get started with the process by contacting an intake coordination team that will walk you through the steps of applying for both Community Ministries’ rental assistance and the government’s. Visit stopmyeviction.org, where you can fill out a form and a coordinator will call you back (the group’s goal is within 24 to 48 hours). Or, you can call 211 and get started from there.

Or, contact Neighborhood Place directly at 977-6636. There are seven physical Neighborhood Place locations, but they are generally not open to the public.

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Landlords can fill out an application online, which can also be found at stopmyeviction.org or at louisvilleky.gov/government/housing under “Eviction Prevention.”

How much can I get?

From Metro government, tenants can get enough money for three months of rental assistance, up to $2,500. Two months of that rental assistance can be past due rent plus the current amount owed. Community Ministries can currently give up to $1,000.

Landlords also can receive up to three months of rental assistance for each unit that is past due on rent. It’s important to note that tenants will not receive Metro assistance directly. Instead, it will go to the landlord on your behalf. And, the landlord will not be allowed to evict you for the next 60 days if they receive it.

Also, only one party can apply for Metro’s assistance. If a tenant applies, the landlord cannot double dip and vice versa. If a landlord receives assistance, the tenant will get a letter.

What will I need?

There are several documents that a tenant will need to receive rental assistance from Metro government. But, you don’t need them on hand to first apply.

The documents include a past due on rent notice from a landlord; proof of your income level; verification that you’ve lost income because of COVID-19; a lease agreement; a picture ID; and a Social Security card, or, if you are not a U.S. citizen, an ITIN number.

Landlords must also present proof that their housing has received government assistance.

How long will it take?

If you fill out the form on stopmyeviction.org, it should take 24 to 48 hours for you to get a call back for assistance on applying. If you’re a tenant, it takes about 10 to 15 days after you send all of your documents to Neighborhood Place for your landlord to receive the check. If you’re a landlord, the city’s goal is to get your check to you within 15 days of receiving your application.

I’m having trouble getting hold of neighborhood place — help!

The top reasons that Neighborhood Place applications stall are either the application is incomplete or Neighborhood Place never received a response from the applicant.

This can happen if the applicant doesn’t pick up Neighborhood Place’s call back or doesn’t get their email. So, Harris recommends sending a follow up email and checking to make sure it was sent to the right person.

What if I need legal assistance?

If you are a tenant, and your landlord has already started eviction proceedings, you can also get free help from the Legal Aid Society. It offers legal advice and represents people in court. To be represented, your income must fall at or below 125% to 200% of federal poverty guidelines.

To contact the Legal Aid Society, apply online at yourlegalaid.org or call 584-1254. The Kentucky Equal Justice Center is advising tenants to work with their landlords if they are having trouble paying their rent.

On their website, kyequaljustice.org, you can find a tool to help you generate a letter to send to your landlord saying why you cannot pay rent. The letter tells landlords how they can take advantage of programs to help with their financial struggles.

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