SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn — Emergency rental assistance is bringing financial relief to the doorsteps of those struggling most to get through the pandemic.
While Tennessee received an allocation of money for emergency rental assistance (ERA), Shelby County and the city of Memphis received a different set of allocated money for their emergency rental assistance.
A chart from the National Low Income Housing Coalition with data updated on Sept. 27 showed Tennessee has only approved the use of about 36% of its ERA1 funds. Luckily for Shelby County residents, the case is much different, so much different that Shelby County has closed its rental assistance application in the meantime.
“Locally, we have closed our ERA portal from accepting new applications and we are just working through the applications we currently have in the portal to eat up the remaining funds that we have,” Memphis Shelby County ERA program manager Karen Gause said.
While the state of Tennessee has only used about $83 million of its allocated $231 million for rental assistance, Shelby County has used around $93 million of its $132 million allocation.
Despite the accessibility of local funds, some residents chose not to apply because they thought they didn’t qualify.
“For a lot of tenants, it’s the language that doesn’t speak to their current situation because none of them are in the state of eviction so they’re not seeing it as an emergency and that’s what the language says on the website,” Kayla Gore, a Memphis landlord, said.
Though residents don’t have to be getting evicted, they do need to be behind on rent to receive assistance.
“With this program, we can cover 12 months of rent owed, so if someone has gone for twelve months unable to pay your rent, we can cover however many months you are considered behind,” Gause said.
The program can also cover overdue utility bills. Though Shelby County has stopped accepting applications while they catch up, residents can still apply through the state.
Qualifying applicants are anyone experiencing economic hardship following March 13, 2020, and meeting their area’s income level – an income below 80% of the area's median income, mobile homeowners who rent frequently, as well as those receiving assistance through the housing choice voucher.
“As far as ERA2 funds go, while we know there will be an opportunity to apply for additional funds right now, we have not received word from treasury about them opening that portal again to allow jurisdictions to apply for those additional funds,” Gause said.
While the leftover funds for Shelby County leaves about $39 million on the table, after administrative funds are taken out of that budget, Gause says it leaves about $28 million.
Even though applications aren’t currently being accepted by Shelby County, Gause encourages renters to go through the state if they are seeking assistance as Tennessee applications are still open.
Residents can head over to thda.org for the state-administered rent relief application portal.