The majority of Northern Nevadans protected from eviction through rental assistance subsidies were single mothers and their children who were already living on the brink of financial calamity prior to the pandemic, program data show.
“The need was there before the pandemic and now those folks are struggling even more,” said Katie Coleman, spokeswoman at the Nevada Rural Housing Authority. “We were seeing that nearly half (of assistance recipients) were ‘female heads of households,’ single moms, which really stood out to us.”
The federal renters’ assistance program is set to expire Dec. 30, along with millions of dollars allocated to Nevada that weren’t spent even though hundreds of tenants remain on a waiting list for processing and many more would be expected to apply. Local officials and housing advocates said they hope Congress will reinstate the program to meet the need.
That need for services hits the most vulnerable people hard, they said.
Low-income families apply
Within the 15 rural counties, data show that 59% of rental assistance applicants were single mothers, including 266 in Carson City. Coleman said elderly and disabled people also made up a large percentage of applicants. “As was the case with most of our clients before the pandemic, these people were one catastrophe away from living in their cars,” she said.
Those demographics also held true for Washoe County, where the rental assistance program is administered by the Reno Housing Authority. In that program, 59% of those who benefitted also were single mothers and also were on the low end of the income scale prior to the pandemic.
“In our rental assistance program, 91 % were very low-income clients,” said Amy Jones, executive director of the Reno Housing Authority. She noted that the threshold for the program is 120% of the area median income, which in Washoe County is $66,960. But Jones said most of the people who applied had incomes far less than that.
“And some people did have good-paying jobs but lost them due to the pandemic,” Jones said. “So many people were being impacted.” She said few applicants who weren’t in desperate circumstances were trying to take advantage of the program “You’ll have those bad apples, but we’ve been able to help really, really good people,” she said.
Incomes vanished overnight
Jones mentioned the example of a man who worked in the food services industry and lived with his mother. He lost his job when the pandemic hit and then his mother contracted COVID-19 and died. “So he not only lost his mom, but her Social Security payments were helping with the rent,” she said. “And he was out of a job. (Rental assistance) helped him stay in his house. He didn’t have any options; he would have been homeless.”
Jones and Coleman said that many of the applicants hadn’t had to ask for government assistance before.
“A lot of these folks were in a situation they’ve never experienced,” Coleman said. “They haven’t had to ask for help; they haven’t had to go to a food bank. That makes it all the more difficult for them to apply. These are new waters that they haven’t had to navigate before. It’s really tough on them, not only financially but emotionally.”
Funding from feds, state, local governments
“Our teams are out there, working one-on-one with applicants and they know their circumstances,” Coleman said. “They are sharing all the details when they apply. We’ve seen moms with three children who were about to be removed (from their homes) and they have nowhere to go.”
In Nevada, the federal money from the CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAP), along with additional funding kicked in by the state and local governments, is administered by the two housing authorities in the north. Clark County Department of Social Services in Southern Nevada is the portal for applications in Clark County, where seven different agencies now process individual claims. Applicants’ demographic data for Clark County wasn’t immediately available.
Money left on the table
The federal program earmarked $30 million in CHAP money for Nevada, with $20 million going to Clark County and $10 million split between Washoe County and the 15 rural counties. The state contributed millions more and local governments added varying amounts. When CHAP expires Dec. 30, whatever federal dollars are left in programs’ coffers also vanish.
Clark County, with 11,868 applications still being processed, is projected to allocate $73 million by Dec. 30, according to the Nevada State Treasurer’s Office.
In Washoe County, CHAP received 3,067 applications, but about half of those applicants didn’t follow through with the process. Of the remainder of applications, 137 were rejected as not meeting requirements and 684 applications were approved. Those resulted in direct payments to landlords for back rent and tenants were able to stay in their homes.
Washoe County had $8.9 million available and RHA expects to have distributed $3.2 million by the deadline. That leaves $2.4 million left on the table. The rural authority expects to have allocated $2.5 million for more than 1,000 applicants by Dec. 30, leaving $2.5 million unspent.
Assistance still needed
“We know the need is there,” Coleman said. “If we had more time to process all those applications, we could get the money out the door.” She said if the program is reinstated, “we still have the information from those who have applied and continue to get that money to landlords.”
Jones said RHA has a waiting list of applicants. “We’re getting everyone processed that we can,” she said. “It was a new program and there were a lot of kinks and challenges throughout the process, but now it’s a well-running machine.”
“The need is real; it’s absolutely real. There are people who don’t make great decisions, but the vast majority of people who we help, (the program) is keeping the roof over their heads.”— Katie Coleman, Nevada Rural Housing Authority.
Gov. Steve Sisolak’s new eviction moratorium protects tenants until March 31, she noted, but if someone has lost their income, they sink deeper into arrears with their landlord.
“There will be increased need,” Jones said. “And we’ve seen fantastic results. This was a program statewide and put into the community into such a short period.” She said in her experience, tenants who had not had to ask for assistance before came to the program as a last resort.
Program may continue
“Sometimes that’s hard to do (ask for assistance),” she said. “We also were seeing people who were trying to give something to their landlords; they were paying apportion of their rent.” Some applicants’ landlords were able to recoup multiple months’ rent. Other renters were one to three months in arrears and were able to get jobs and no longer need the help.
In Sparks, $784,000 has been spent on 202 applicants in the rental assistance program, with 74 applications pending as of Dec. 16. A projected $591,000 will remain in the city’s program fund on Dec. 30 and must be returned.
Officials and housing advocates in the three CHAP program regions of Nevada said they are optimistic that Congress will reinstate a rental assistance program. They said they will continue to accept applications until Dec. 30 even though they can’t be processed under the existing law. That way, they said, the landlords and tenants will be ahead of the game if and when CHAP continues.
Initially, tenants had to start the application process, but now landlords also may apply for the rental assistance programs, according to the state treasurer.