King County announced this week that it has distributed more than $46 million in rental assistance, including $7.7 million last week, and is collaborating with local property owners and community-based partners to simplify and improve the Eviction Prevention and Rent Assistance Program (EPRAP), bringing financial relief and stability to thousands of households across the region.
The number of households receiving rent payments increased for the fourth week in a row, paying $7.7 million last week and reaching a total of $46.3 million in payments in 2021. Last week’s $7.7 million in payments is the largest amount processed in one week so far. A total of 4,656 tenants have had their rent paid, and more than 14,172 tenants have applications being processed. King County has also launched a new program designed to intervene in eviction proceedings. This year’s payments are in addition to the more than $37 million distributed in 2020.
“King County is committed to supporting tenants and local property owners alike to get through the financial hardships of this lingering pandemic,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “We moved with urgency to implement new federal rules and reassigned dozens of staff to process a flood of applications. Today, our community partnerships are strong, our data system is working well, and our team is getting millions of dollars out weekly to stabilize both landlords and tenants across the county.”
Here’s more from the county:
Program changes accelerating payments
When the U.S. Treasury issued new guidance on program requirements in late August, King County acted immediately to implement the changes, moving to simplify and streamline the application, approval, and payment processes for EPRAP. The changes included:
- Tenants can now self-attest to their program eligibility with regard to income, COVID impacts, and housing instability.
- Landlords can now self-attest as to ledgers and leases.
- Landlords participating in the Landlord Program may request an advance payment of up to 50 percent of the estimated total amount due while their tenant applications are being processed. This was offered to 351 landlords; 148 requested an advance and 79 advance payments have already been made to landlords that represent over 344 owners.
“Housing providers have worked hard to meet the needs of residents who struggled to pay their housing costs,” said Brett Waller, Director of Government Affairs at the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association. “We appreciate the County’s efforts to quickly adopt the Treasury guidance to speed the delivery of much needed rental assistance to renters and housing providers. The adoption of these changes have made a significant impact in making sure the resources available are being used to assist housing providers in meeting their operating expenses.”
With increased staffing, King County now offers training and technical assistance to both landlords and tenants to explain the changes and trouble-shoot any problems. County staff is collaborating closely with more than 40 contracted community-based organizations who are working every day to help people complete their applications. Weekly increases in payments processed through EPRAP’s data system over the past four weeks directly reflect these efforts. The current rate and pace of processing and expenditure of new and pending applications is expected to continue growing through October. Additionally, King County does not anticipate any loss of funds through reallocation or redistribution based on guidelines issued by the U.S. Treasury on Oct. 4, 2021.
New eviction prevention contract activated
Paying rent assistance on behalf of eligible households is one half of the effort to maintain housing stability in the shadow of the COVID pandemic. EPRAP now includes an additional tool to prevent eviction: funding the Housing Justice Project and Dispute Resolution Centers to provide legal aid to stop evictions based on unpaid rent. A total of $24 million has been committed to intervene in the event an EPRAP-eligible tenant faces eviction proceedings. More funding may be possible depending on need and utilization.
“Despite protections in place, tenants across the country face eviction,” said Edmund Witter, Managing Attorney of the Housing Justice Project. “This contract will allow us to provide King County residents with the legal assistance they need to stay in their homes as they recover from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. We anticipate being able to prevent homelessness for thousands of households as a result.”
County’s data system allows the program to operate at a scale that matches historic levels of need and resources
With new systems, staff, and partnerships in place, King County now has the ability to provide rental assistance at an unprecedented scale. A core element is the new secure data system the County partnered with GrantCare to develop. The new data system supports every step of the program while adhering to eligibility and compliance rules set by the Federal Government. The front-end portal allows tenants and landlords to pre-register for assistance and complete their applications. The back-end system, used by County and contracted-provider staff, coordinates workflows, tracks communications, manages a variety of documents and forms, calculates assistance eligibility, and routes payments for review and approval. Cost of the data system is about $800,000, less than 0.05% of the program budget. King County and GrantCare are now focused on improving user experience in the data system to allow processing speed to continue increasing.
Of the total paid to date this year, $11.9 million was paid out in rental assistance between January-June 2021. King County began distributing the $123 million currently available in mid-July and anticipates that most of that funding will be spent by the end of October 2021. King County estimates it could receive about $177 million more in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds later this fall, which would allow assistance to continue into 2022. With all available and projected future funds, King County’s EPRAP could serve as many as 35,000 low-income households. While assisting 35,000 tenants would be unprecedented, King County estimates that the number of households needing rent assistance may still exceed the resources available.
Participating landlords may receive up to nine months of back rent and three months in advance for every tenant who is eligible. Landlords agree to waive any additional back rent that may be owed, agree to assess no new late fees or additional changes during the months covered, and agree not to raise the rent for at least six months after the payment period ends. These stipulations do not eliminate the landlord’s right to evict tenants where just cause exists.
Enrollment is Open
Households throughout King County whose income is at or below 50 percent of the area median income and have fallen behind in rent due to unemployment, lost wages, or health crises due to the COVID-19 pandemic are encouraged to apply. For more information call 206-263-3481 or visit the EPRAP web page. Tenants can also go straight to the sign-up page at https://rent-help.kingcounty.gov.