Rent, utility help on the way for West Virginians in coronavirus pandemic

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Some tenants in West Virginia struggling with rent and utility payments in the coronavirus pandemic will soon be to apply for bill help through the new Mountaineer Rental Assistance Program.

About $200 million has been allocated to the Mountain State out of the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program which was established with $25 billion in total funding in the latest federal coronavirus stimulus package.

The West Virginia Housing Development Fund has been tapped to distribute West Virginia’s share.

“We understand there is just a horrific need for this assistance,” said Erica Boggess, WVHDF executive director.

“We are all hands on deck at the Housing Fund trying to put this together and make it work. We’re going to do this just as soon as we possibly can.”

Funds from the U.S. Treasury are expected to arrive in West Virginia before the end of January, but many details about the program have yet to be released and it was not immediately clear how quickly payments could start being made.

Erica Boggess

“It will take us a bit of time to roll out this program,” Boggess said.

What’s happening now is the development of a system to process future applications and disperse funds.

Initial plans called for payments to be made directly to property owners, landlords or utility companies, according to Boggess.

Those who may qualify can register with the WVHDF online for notifications about when the application period will start.

Message about interest with names, phone numbers and email addresses could also be left at 1-866-623-6284.

In general, the Mountaineer Rental Assistance Program is for people who have qualified for unemployment benefits or who have experienced reductions in household income in the pandemic with incomes of no more than 80 percent of area median incomes.

Priority was to be given to households with incomes of no more than 50 percent of area median incomes and to households where one or more household members have been unemployed for 90 days.

Other factors may include people dealing with significant costs and other financial hardships due directly or indirectly to the pandemic, people at risk of becoming homeless, people served with eviction notices or people living in unhealthy conditions.

Landlords and owners are permitted to apply on behalf of tenants meeting the eligibility requirements as long as the tenant cosigns the application, the landlord provides documentation to the tenant and payments are used for rental obligations.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) had advocated for the rental help.

“Across the state, West Virginians are struggling to find jobs, put food on the table, or keep a roof over their head due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Senator Manchin said in a statement last week announcing the allocation.

“I will continue to work with federal, state, and local parties to ensure this program is up and running as quickly as possible so West Virginians can get the help they need during these difficult times.”

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