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Thousands vying for rent-assistance lottery

THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK HOUSING

Sophie Nieto-Munoz For The Star-Ledger

More than 60,000 residents are vying for rental assistance from New Jersey’s $100 million share of a federally funded program to help renters struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The tens of thousands of applications for the COVID19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which will provide up to six months of rental assistance to low- and moderate-income households, came in during the twoweek window to apply, said Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Ryan.

It’s unclear how many of the 60,838 applicants will be selected. Winners will be selected through an online lottery next Wednesday. Applicants can check for updates on their status at waitlistcheck.com.

If selected, tenants will be required to pay 30% of the rent, while the state will cover the other 70%. The DCA will make the payments directly to the landlord. Households will be reviewed in October to determine if they’re still eligible for the second three months of the program.

It was the state’s first rental relief open to residents since the coronavirus pandemic sent the state’s economy into a tailspin, as nonessential businesses closed to curb the spread of the virus, which led to skyrocketing

unemployment and an inability for people to pay their rent.

In response to the unprecedented job loss, Gov. Phil Murphy placed a moratorium on lockouts and enacted a rent freeze for 36,000 homes in New Jersey. Some landlords could also defer their mortgage payments, depending on the type of mortgage they have.

Murphy, a first-term Democrat, pleaded for landlords to show “compassion” to tenants struggling to pay their rent, while housing advocates called on the governor to do more for renters — including ceasing eviction settlement hearings that have already begun at two county courthouses.

Anne Kat Alexander, a faculty assistant with nonprofit Princeton-based research group The Eviction Lab, noted the application had “very strict eligibility requirements.”

Applicants must have an annual income below the maximum income limits in their county, and would help only renters who have been unable to pay their rent as far back as March due to a loss in income because of Covid-19, according to the DCA.

“Rent relief programs with onerous document requirements or narrow eligibility requirements would run the risk of locking out tenants who would be and should be eligible for aid, because they aren’t able to access the aid,” she said. “If tenants aren’t able to access that kind of aid, then it’s a situation where you’re wondering if the program has achieved the goal.”

Alexander pointed to Houston’s $15 million rental assistance fund — for a city of 2.3 million people — which was claimed within two hours of opening.

“The amount of need is just staggering. If $15 million for one city runs out that fast, it makes $100 million look like a smaller sum,” she said.

In addition to rental assistance, New Jersey residents can apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program for help with utility costs.

The program recently received $29 million through the CARES Act.

The New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, which provides funding for affordable housing, has also expanded its programs to include renter and pre-foreclosure housing.

Counseling is also available for renters who need to approach their landlord for help.

Sophie Nieto-Munoz, NJ Advance Media, snietomunoz@njadvancemedia.com

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