Authority: $40.8M in emergency rental assistance has reached Alabamians

Authority: $40.8M in emergency rental assistance has reached Alabamians

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

About $17.5 million in federal emergency rental assistance reached Alabamians in jeopardy of losing their homes in October after a dip in distributions from August to September.

Through October, a total of $40.8 million from a possible $263 million in pandemic help made available earlier this year has been distributed, the Alabama Housing Finance Authority told Alabama Daily News.

The authority is charged with distributing the federal funding. The pace of those allocations has worried some lawmakers and advocates.

A report from the U.S. Department of Treasury said that through September, Alabama had only distributed 18% of the funds, less than surrounding states and less than the national allocation of 46%.

In fact, fewer households were helped and less money was given out in September than in August.

“We really should be ramping up at this point to full throttle on the disbursement of these monies,” said Dev Wakeley, a policy analyst for Alabama Arise. “People still need it. We’re entering into the colder months and people are in dire straits.”

The September decline in help was due to the time and effort necessary to implement new procedures from the Department of Treasury in order to expedite and streamline application processing, Kristi Gates, a spokeswoman for the authority, told ADN.

“We more than doubled September’s distribution for the month of October,” she said. “We do not expect major fluctuations to occur from month to month moving forward, and our goal is to distribute $20 million per month.”

In October, 6,548 applicants received assistance. Applicants typically get assistance for several months, but not to exceed 15.

Authority officials in late September told a panel of lawmakers that distributions were moving more quickly and about 6,700 applicants are awaiting payments. Others are still in various stages of application and review. In all, the authority had received more than 71,000 applications for help. More than 44,000 have been withdrawn because the applicants didn’t complete the process.

Wakely said the October distribution of funds is still short of the demonstrated need.

“While it’s certainly good to see this increase after the troubling decrease in September’s numbers, this is a step forward after being a mile behind,” Wakeley said.

Statewide eviction data isn’t easily available and Alabama Daily News has requested recent numbers from the Alabama Administrative Office of the Courts.

Legal Services of Alabama, which provides legal aid to low-income families, told Alabama Daily News it is still seeing a significant increase in eviction cases since the pandemic began. It had 356 eviction cases last month, compared to 193 in October 2020 and 162 in October 219.

Between Jan. 1 and October, Legal Services handled 2,803 eviction cases. That’s compared to 1,367 and 1,167 for the same time periods in 2020 and 2019, respectively.

Gov. Kay Ivey placed a moratorium on evictions at the beginning of the pandemic as part of her “Stay at Home” public health order, but that ended June 1. The federal eviction ban that protects more than 12 million renters living in federally subsidized apartments or units with federally backed mortgages ended July 25.

In August, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chair of the House’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent the authority and Gov. Kay Ivey a letter asking why the state hasn’t been quicker in distributing the aid.

“Alabama’s distribution of federal rental assistance funds has been far too slow,” Clyburn wrote. “… The state’s sluggish distribution of assistance comes in the face of significant need.”

The authority earlier this year hired Jackson, Miss.-based Horne LLC to provide staff for a call center and application review. The authority said it had reserved $26.3 million, 10% of the funding as allowed by the Treasury, for administration of the program.

“We implore you to do whatever you can to ramp this up as expediently as possible,” Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro,  told authority and Horne representatives in late September.