Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Dauphin County offers new way for residents to apply for rental assistance, continues disbursing millions to those in need

Dauphin County Administration building

While many of us, although impacted by the pandemic, have been able to move into a “new normal” way of life, some residents are still facing the insecurity of a most basic need—housing.

For months, Dauphin County has been working to disburse about $18 million in federal and state Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program (ERAP) funds to help those behind on rent or utility payments.

On Friday, they introduced a new online program application portal as a way to make the process easier for those in need. The portal will launch on Feb. 7.

“This new online interface will enhance the applicant’s experience, and, we hope, trim processing time,” Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick said.

The new interface will prioritize applicants with the highest level of risk, according to the county. It also will make it easier to upload documents required for applying and will allow residents and landlords to check their application status. Residents can also receive case notifications.

As of Jan. 21, 5,100 applicants submitted 5,730 applications to the program. So far, $14.6 million (total federal and state combined) has been released for 2,286 applications, according to the county.

The application period, which began in March 2021, remains open, and the program will continue until all of the money is disbursed, on a first-come-first-served basis. However, the online platform will be down from Feb. 1 to 6 as the county transitions to the new system.

Those who have already applied do not need to reapply under the new program.

For a resident to be eligible for the assistance, they 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.

“We still continue to see a fairly steady stream of applications,” said Darrel Reinford, executive director of Christian Churches United, who is helping administer the ERAP funds.

While most people aren’t facing job loss as a result of the pandemic like many were at this time last year, people can still miss work due to a COVID exposure or diagnosis, Reinford pointed out.

“The reality is that a landlord can start the eviction process as soon as anyone is behind at all on rent,” Reinford said. “Even losing two weeks of work, they can get behind.”

Last winter, federal and local eviction moratoriums shielded many people from losing their homes, but that safety net has long since expired. In an attempt to combat homelessness, applicants to the ERAP program who are facing immediate danger of eviction are prioritized, Reinford said.

However, CCU has still seen an increase in homelessness this winter and a greater demand for their men’s and women’s shelter, which are at capacity, during the cold months, Reinford said. He cited the expired eviction bans, increased cost of housing and limited availability of affordable housing as possible reasons for the rise.

“I can’t imagine how the situation would be without this program,” he said. “The program has really helped the homelessness system from being totally overwhelmed. We hope the online portal will help. There’s still a lot of applications that we are working through.”

For more information on the Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program, or to apply, visit the county’s website.

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