County allocates more public funds to local rental assistance programs

By Emily Fitzgerald / emily@chronline.com

Lewis County has allocated more funds to the Salvation Army and the Equity Institute to provide housing assistance to county residents who are at risk of eviction.

Rent assistance funding is part of the state’s Emergency Rent Assistance Program (ERAP), which provides assistance to tenants and landlords who have fallen behind on their rent payments, mortgage or utilities until June 2023.

The goal of the program is to reduce evictions and keep people in stable housing.

Given Lewis County’s housing shortage, spending funds to keep people housed is more effective than spending them on social workers to find housing that doesn’t exist, said JP Anderson, director of Lewis County Public Health and Human Services.

Anderson called the housing stock a “limiting factor” for progress in the community and added that “stabilization” is a major goal of funders, like the Salvation Army, with whom he works. For example, providers making sure housing matches tenants’ lifestyles is part of the program, he said.

The Salvation Army handles applications and aid distribution for English speakers, while the Equity Institute handles the process for Spanish speakers.

Just under 800 households have received rental assistance through the Salvation Army since the launch of ERAP 2.0 on October 1, according to Salvation Army Captain Gin Pack.

Funding to help pay rent and utilities is available through the Salvation Army and the Equity Institute through June 2023.

When asked if there was a chance the state Department of Commerce would extend assistance beyond June 2023, Lewis County Public Health and Human Services contract coordinator Justia Madrigal said said : “Right now, I think what they’re doing is kind of looking at the data that they’ve compiled across all of the emergency rental assistance programs since the pandemic began. They look at that and, of course, all the challenges we’ve faced. So I know there are conversations about something that could be a more permanent and ongoing project, but nothing concrete has been announced yet.

The current iteration of ERAP, called ERAP 2.0, was created in October 2021 and is funded by the state Department of Commerce. At that time, the county had terminated a contract with the Treasury Rent Assistance Program (T-RAP), which is administered by the Department of Commerce and funded by both state and federal funds.

“When we did that, we had left some money on the table in our ERAP allocation, through Commerce,” Madrigal said, “And so what they did was review and doing some budgeting, closings, finalizing our expenses and then seeing what we had left on the table.

Commerce recently completed this budgeting process and reallocated funding from the T-RAP program to the county’s ERAP 2.0 program.

The county contracts the Salvation Army and the Equity Institute to distribute these funds.

The Lewis County Board of County Commissionsoners (BOCC) on Tuesday allocated an additional $2,731,038 to the Salvation Army’s existing contract, which runs from October 1, 2021 to June 30, 2023.

The additional funding brings the county’s contract with the Salvation Army to a total of $8,585,591.

The BOCC allocated an additional $42,744 to the existing Equity Institute contract, bringing that total to $367,998 for the period October 1, 2021 to June 30, 2023.

ERAP assistance is available to Lewis County residents who are at 80% or less of the Lewis County median income and have at least one month’s rent unpaid or partially paid.

Lewis County’s median family income in 2021 was $77,500, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

More information about applying for housing assistance online can be found at www.centralia.salvationarmy.org/centralias/rental-assistance. Residents can also call 360-736-4339 for more information.

Information for Spanish-speaking residents, as well as other resources, can also be found online at the Equity Institute at www.tuhogarlc.com.

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