JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The coronavirus pandemic caused a number of financial hardships for people across the nation and even here at home in Tennessee. One common hardship is the inability to keep up with rent for those people who have fallen on harder times during this past year.
The Tennessee Housing Development Agency is hoping to help those struggling with this exact program by recently opening applications for its COVID-19 Rent Relief program. The new program is made possible after the THDA received $384 million in direct funding from the U.S. Treasury.
Those eligible can apply through the online portal that opened on Monday, March 1st. The portal will allow renters and landlords to apply for up to 12 months of cumulative rent and/or utility payments through this new program.
Officials with the THDA told News Channel 11’s Kelly Grosfield that the program was developed to specifically support renters who are or have been, struggling to pay rent, utilities, or other home energy costs due to loss of income resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a news release, THDA stated they will administer this program in 91 of Tennessee’s 95 counties because Davidson, Knox, Rutherford, and Shelby counties have their own rent relief programs. Renters in those counties who have experienced economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and earn less than 80 percent of the area median income may be eligible for this assistance.
Both landlords and tenants who apply will be required to provide verification and documentation as proof of eligibility. Once approved, payments will be made directly to the landlord or utility company on behalf of the tenant.
News Channel 11 spoke with Ralph Perry the Executive Director of the TDHA who oversees the program. “This is for renters. Renters who have lost their job or a portion of their income because of COVID and as a result, have fallen behind on their rent or utility payments, or are in danger of doing so,” he said.
He said the money for the program was part of the relief package that passed around Christmas. His organization had to apply to the federal government in order to receive the funds and get the program running.
While the renters are the ones applying for the program, he said landlords also play a role in the application process by verifying information and helping them determine eligibility.
Perry said the program is important because many people lost a big chunk of income due to the pandemic and losing income like that can lead to other problems down the road such as falling behind on rent and eventually evictions and loss of home in the worst-case scenarios.
“A lot of these folks, they were good renters, regular payers, until COVID or the government response to COVID cost them the ability to make money. So this is the government making up for them by getting them current on their rent or past due utility obligations,” he said.
He said the program also covers those in Section 8 housing, but only to a certain extent.
Once people apply, they won’t need to apply again if approved, but if they’re in need of continuing assistance, there may be recertification points down the road.
According to Perry, the government allows them to provide up to 12 months of assistance per household. The program, while only open for two days so far has already drawn the interest of many Tennesseans with 5,700 people applying on the first day.
“We think we can help 25,000 to 30,000 households initially with this money. I think it’s very likely that additional resources will be coming later in the year,” he said.
Once you’re in the system you will be able to log in and check the status of your application. Perry predicts they’ll be able to start processing checks in 3 to 4 weeks.
Landlords across the Tri-Cities said this will be a good thing for both tenants and the landlords.
“I’m going to forward this to all my tenants especially the ones that are struggling so they can go and get help and that would benefit the landlords because landlords did not get much help from the government initially so I guess this would be a great help,” said Vivek Vatrana, who manages properties across Johnson City.
Vatrana said stimulus check payments helped most of his residents keep up with rent, but there still have been a few struggling tenants.
D & K Property Management oversees 1,700 units. Zoe Hill, a property manager with the company said she’s already started helping one tenant with an application and has compiled a list of those who need this program. She plans to help everyone she can get the relief they need.
“We really maintain personal relationships with our tenants so we know the people who have lost their job to the pandemic and are struggling because of that so I’m able to identify which tenants will really benefit from that,” said Hill.
She said at the end of the day, the most important thing to her is that her tenants remain in safe, suitable housing.
“Anything we can do to keep them there is huge and the THDA application is going to really help us relieve rent from our residents and allow our owners to continue offering them housing,” said Hill.
You can apply to the THDA COVID-19 rent relief program here or call (844) 500-1112.