2021 | Government

Council leadership dismayed by delay in rental relief distribution

County has distributed fraction of $31 million in federal funds it received

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Two Montgomery County Council leaders are upset that recent federal money for rental assistance hasn’t been distributed more quickly, and are trying to figure out what is causing the delay. 

The Washington Post reported Friday that Montgomery County and other jurisdictions in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., were struggling to distribute federal money for rental assistance.

As of May 5, Montgomery County had distributed none of the $31.4 million in federal money it had received, according to the Post report.

Almost a month later, the county had distributed some of the money, but still a small fraction.

Amanda Harris, chief of Services to End and Prevent Homelessness within the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Monday that county officials started distributing the money a little more than a week ago, and so far has given out more than $400,000.

Harris wrote that the county received more than 6,000 applications. The rental assistance program has some flexibility but there are many requirements, she added.

“It is still a federal program and requires a fair amount of checks and balances,” Harris wrote. “Some … examples of challenges include the requirement to wait 10 days to confirm landlord participation and tenants submitting documentation and responding to staff in a timely manner.”

Council President Tom Hucker said during his weekly briefing on Monday that it’s “frustrating” that much of the money hadn’t been distributed to those needing help paying rent.

He said he and the county’s staff were trying to figure out why the DHHS, which is administering the fund, has been slow to distribute it.

“It’s a win-win program, we’re grateful to have the aid, but when it’s sitting in the county coffer, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Hucker said.

Hucker and Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said DHHS has hired more employees to administer the rental money, which Harris confirmed.

There is great demand and officials need to administer money to who most needs relief, Albornoz said.

“They would be the first to acknowledge that this is a critically important issue that needs to happen more quickly,” he said.

Hucker said that even with the delays, he and colleagues are encouraging those who need rental assistance to continue applying for funds.

Albornoz, the chair of the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, said there could be a joint meeting between his committee and the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee to figure out the problems.

There is great need in the community, Albornoz added, and many times, the funds are not enough.

“When we say rental assistance, [residents] are seven, eight, nine months in arrears, because of what has transpired,” Albornoz told reporters. “So, we have folks who are severely in the hole financially and so the original fund set forth as originally envisioned [is] not enough for a number of county residents.”

Harris wrote in an email that those who are being prioritized include people who have been unemployed for 90 days or more, have extremely low income or have impending court action.

In a follow-up interview Tuesday, Hucker said another issue involving the disbursal of funds is the rental applications can take a long time to process.

“It’s not that the application itself is complicated. … It’s that once you start the process, it takes a long time for them to be processed, and then it gets stuck,” Hucker said. “And you, the consumer, can’t track the progress of the application the whole way.”

Eligible tenants can receive up to $12,000 under the county’s rental assistance program. Those earning less than 30% of the median area income could receive more.

To apply, residents must prove a loss of work due to the coronavirus, owe at least $1,000 to their landlord, and have lived in Montgomery County since at least August of last year. 

Residents must show they have earned 50% or less than the area median income during the past 30 days. They do not need to prove citizenship or provide a Social Security number, but they must have:

  • Photo identification
  • Proof of residency
  • Income verification

Roughly $31 million of federal funding was announced in April. Since then, an additional $61 million from federal and state funds was announced.

People can apply for rental assistance at http://www.mc311.com/rentrelief or by calling 240-777-0311.

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