SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — If you are struggling to pay bills and you live in Shelby County, the COVID-19 Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program opened up again Sunday afternoon. If you are approved, this program will pay up to 12 months of owed rent and utilities. The program is helping keep as many families as possible in their homes.
The City of Memphis and Shelby County started with about $28 million in March, has about $13 million left to give to people who need help catching up on bills. There are other assistance programs that people can apply to, but the ERA program doesn't have a cap, so you can get as much as you need to pay off your debt. This is because this money is expected to expire in 2022.
Judge Betty Thomas Moore said not enough people know the county is fighting to keep people in their homes. More than 2,500 people in Shelby County are facing eviction, and that number is increasing daily. As of early July, more than 34,000 households were behind on rent, according to Surgro Ventures, a county-by-county analysis.
"We are stopping evictions, stopping putting people on the street, stopping homelessness," Thomas Moore said. "Landlords, lawyers stepped up and said on, we are going to work this thing. we are going to work with this we are going to do whatever it takes to keep people in the property, give folks an opportunity to start over again."
Attorney Webb Brewer is the General Counsel for the Memphis and Shelby County Emergency Rental Assistance Program. He's been on the frontline in assisting tenants and landlords.
"Some people would get to court and not heard about the availability of the program no matter how much we try to do in terms of advertising. And the judges have been very good in offering to continue their cases and advising them to contact us," Brewer said.
The ERA program Coordinator, Karen Gause, said the courthouse has helped about 5,000 households through this program.
“If they find themselves a few months after being assisted, still being the same situation they will, of course, have to produce some updated documentation, but overall we can still provide assistance to that tenant as long as it doesn't exceed 12 months in arrears,” ERA program coordinator Karen Gause said.
If renters' facing evictions get approved to get their debt paid, it has to be a mutual agreement between the landlord and tenant. Brewer said less than 20 percent of landlords have chosen to decline the program's offer and moved forward with kicking their tenants out. If that happens, then money will go directly to the renter to help them relocate.
If you are approved, and both parties agree, then the money will go directly to MLGW and your landlord. To be eligible, someone in the household had a financial loss due to COVID-19, you are past due on your rent or utilities, and your household income is under 80% of the county's median income.
Since this is a rolling application, it is best to apply as soon as possible. The application for August will last through August 14. This is not only for people who are facing eviction. If you are noticing you are falling behind on rent or utilities, and just want to get ahead of it before it goes to court, you can still apply.
It is an online application. Those who need assistance can go to your local library or the courthouse.
For more information, click here.