Workforce Services adjusts eligibility requirements for rental assistance during COVID-19

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — With the recent cessation of the federal $600 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit, the Housing and Community Development Division of the Utah Department of Workforce Services has adjusted the eligibility requirements for the pandemic housing assistance program.

Those who are receiving unemployment benefits may now be eligible to receive rental assistance. Previously, only renters who were not receiving unemployment benefits were eligible.

The program is targeted to help renters whose income has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and who have a household income at or below the area median income.

The program can pay up to $2,000 a month for rent and utilities.

Christina Davis, strategic communication manager for Workforce Services, said that the department continues to adjust the housing assistance program as the landscape of the pandemic changes, with the goal of helping people stay in their homes and maintain the stability of their families during these hard times.

“As far as who is being impacted, we are seeing a broad range of families and people impacted,” Davis said. “If someone has lost income or another serious financial burden, then they should contact their local agency to find out their eligibility.”

Apartments in St. George, Utah, Aug. 9, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The Utah Legislature approved using federal CARES Act funds for the housing assistance program and directed the Utah Housing and Community Development Division to administer the program.

Before that funding was available, the division also used other federal funding from Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide pandemic rental assistance starting in May 2020.

Since launching in May, the program has assisted more than 280 Utah households to stay in their homes, with a total of more than $380,000 in month-to-month rent and rent-related payments.

“This is really designed to help people stay in their homes during these unique and difficult times,” Davis said. “We definitely want to keep people from becoming homeless.”

The most recent data, as of 2020, has Washington County’s homeless population at 222, up from 142 in 2019, and 245 in 2018, according to Workforce Services.

“The causes of homelessness are often complex and multilayered, but if someone has a home the best thing is for them to stay in place,” Davis said. “Housing is getting more and more expensive and it (homelessness) can sneak up on anybody.”

St. George resident Linda Carter knows how tenuous life can quickly become.

“I lost my job, bills were due,” Carter said. “What was I going to do? I love it here, but I’m moving back home. … I’m not crazy about moving in the middle of summer, but it’s better than living on the street in the middle of summer.”

The housing assistance program is being implemented throughout the state by local nonprofit agencies.

To learn more about eligibility and where to apply, renters should call 211 to find their local agency and access to other assistance or go to the Five County Association of Governments website.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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