Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Dauphin County to release rent relief money, could relieve large amount of tenant debt

Dauphin County Administration building

Harrisburg-area residents struggling financially now have another way to avoid eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dauphin County is expected to receive up to $18 million in state and federal CARES Rent Relief Program funds that it plans to distribute to tenants behind on rent.

“The ongoing pandemic continues to squeeze the budgets of so many residents and families in Dauphin County,” County Commission Chair Jeff Haste said in a statement. “This funding is a lifeline for rent due and associated utility costs.”

According to county officials, renters can receive up to 12 months of rental and utility assistance, approved in increments of three months. Tenants can use the funds for back or future rent or utilities.

To be eligible for the program, residents must qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced a reduction in income, incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to COVID-19 that hinder their ability to pay rent. They also must prove there is a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability and must be at 80% “Area Median Income” or below, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Dauphin County’s rent relief funds come during a time when, nationally and locally, people have been struggling to pay rent for nearly a year now. Since September, there have been over 2,500 eviction cases filed in Dauphin County, according to PA Unified Judicial System data collected by the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.

Eviction moratoriums from the state, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the city throughout the course of the year have prevented lockouts for some. In Harrisburg, eviction filings have only slightly decreased since the citywide ban was enacted. However, judicial system data shows that actual lockouts have significantly been curtailed by the moratorium.

But moratoriums can only last so long, and renters will still be required to pay up once they expire.

Recently, Harrisburg made a move to help, offering $500,000 in federal Emergency Shelter Grant COVID (ESG/CV) funds. The program has been flooded with applications, according to Lillie Williams, interim director of the city’s Department of Building and Housing Development.

Dauphin County opened the application window for its funds to the public on Monday and, by Friday morning, had already received 285 applications, a county spokesperson confirmed. The window will remain open until the money is gone, though no later than Sept. 30.

According to the county, applicants can expect to be contacted about a week after the application is complete.

The county will administer the funds, and Christian Churches United of the Tri-County Area (CCU), the Salvation Army and Tri County Community Action will assist with processing applications.

Caleb Cossick, a leader at Greater Harrisburg Tenants United, a local tenant advocacy group, has been working with renters, educating and advocating on their behalf throughout the pandemic. Now he’s working with CCU to process applications.

“The hope would be that this can solve a lot of the debt crisis,” he said. “This is a lot of money.”

Cossick said that he believes the $18 million will be enough to cover all the eviction cases that have been filed in the county. The average claim in an eviction case is just over $2,000, according to PA judicial system data. However, not everyone with back rent has been to court, he said.

Overall, Cossick is optimistic about the funding, saying that the few eligibility requirements make the program accessible to those who need it. His only concern is that funds won’t be distributed before the federal or city moratoriums expire.

Cossick encourages applicants to make sure that they have all necessary documents ready when applying, including pay stubs or unemployment papers, identification, a signed lease and documentation from a landlord and/or utility provider demonstrating nonpayment of rent.

If residents have questions about the county’s rent relief program, they can call 2-1-1 or email rentutilityassist@dauphinc.org.

Online applications can be found here. Paper applications can be picked up at The Northern Dauphin Services Center, 295 State Drive, Elizabethville, or at Christian Churches United’s outdoor box, 413 S. 19th St., Harrisburg. All paper applications must be returned to CCU.

For more information, visit Dauphin County’s website.

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