Montgomery County will begin accepting applications for its fourth round of rental assistance on Monday — and roughly $43 million will be available for county residents.

County Executive Marc Elrich and other senior officials announced the availability of the rental assistance during a news conference Wednesday. Elrich said the funds will be available to households that make 50% or less of the county’s area median income.

Fifty percent of the area median income is about $50,000 for a household of four people, according to Ilana Branda, the county’s deputy chief of Services to End and Prevent Homelessness. The $43 million is coming directly from the U.S. Treasury and state government — $28 million in federal funds and $15 million from the state’s coffers.

The County Council must hold a public hearing and approve the use of the $15 million in state money for rental assistance, but that should occur next week, Branda said. 

The maximum award that applicants can receive during this round is $12,000, Branda said. In total, residents can receive up to 18 months of assistance for arrears, between this round and the prior round of rental assistance, she added. The deadline for that round was at the end of 2021.

In order to apply for funding, residents must meet the following criteria:

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  • Proof of loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Owe at least two months of rent
  • Make at or below 50% of area median income, or AMI
  • Resided in Montgomery County since August 2021

Branda said landlords can now submit income information and other documentation on tenants’ behalf through the county’s application portal. Utility assistance of up to $2,000 is also available for applicants making 30% or less of the area median income, she added.

Demand for rental assistance has always exceeded overall need, Branda said. She said that the U.S. Senate has introduced legislation to create a permanent rental assistance program. That bill, however, has not reached a vote since being introduced last year.

Branda and Elrich also noted the county has additional funds from the federal American Rescue Plan that officials could choose to spend on rental assistance once the county stops receiving federal and state funding.

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The county allocates $4 million annually for eviction prevention and similar work, Branda said. Elrich told reporters Wednesday that it’s possible the county could allocate some of its American Rescue Plan funds to help a wider range of people, including those who need assistance but make too much money to qualify under the current rules. 

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard explained that the rental assistance program is only one aspect of efforts to address housing affordability across the county. 

Stoddard added that $40 million has been allocated in this year’s budget to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing. That housing includes “units that are affordable largely due to the market or physical conditions, including their age, location or other factors,” according to the Montgomery Planning Department.

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“Rental assistance doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” Stoddard said. “It’s part of a significant other package of programs aimed at making Montgomery County more affordable, and protecting the affordable housing that we already have, making sure that it’s not lost to developer profits.”

Branda later said that while providing financial assistance is important, it’s also vital to provide education and assistance to tenants, whether that means working on landlord-tenant relations or helping tenants find cheaper housing. That includes working with local nonprofits and partners organizations who represent tenants and renters in the county.

“Not every intervention and not every housing challenge requires financial assistance,” Branda said. “There’s many ways we can help them around the eviction process, like through mediation between a tenant and their landlord.”

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Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com