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City, county to offer $29 million in rental help

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

A federally funded program meant to prevent the pandemic from plunging more people into homelessness is bringing $29 million in rent support to the metro area.

The city of Albuquerque announced Wednesday it had received $24 million through the Emergency Rental Assistance program. Bernalillo County, meanwhile, has $5 million to distribute.

Residents who meet certain income and other criteria can qualify for up to 15 months of assistance with rent and utilities, including back payments and future costs. Mayor Tim Keller in a statement called it “a lifeline” for struggling families “to avoid the cliff and make it through this.”

Albuquerque officials say they are awaiting additional federal guidance before they begin releasing the money. The local governments have until Dec. 31 to use the funding, though the city says a three-month extension is possible.

“We are working to get these funds out to those in our community who need it as quickly as possible,” Carol Pierce, director of the city’s Family and Community Services Department, said in a statement.

As for Bernalillo County, a spokesman said the county commission is scheduled to approve the relief program at an upcoming meeting and that applications for emergency relief should open March 1.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury – which is administering the $25 billion emergency rental assistance program – has provided some details about recipient qualifications. Its website says to qualify for this assistance, renter households must have at least one member who meets the following criteria:

⋄ Is at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (that varies by household size but in the city of Albuquerque, 80% is $38,750 for one person and $55,300 for four).

⋄ Qualifies for unemployment or has experienced income loss, significant costs or other financial hardship due to COVID-19.

⋄ Demonstrates risk of homelessness or housing instability.

The program will cover up to 12 months of assistance, though those who need it to ensure housing stability may get three additional months, the Treasury’s website says.

The city has historically helped some residents get current on rent and utility bills through an existing eviction prevention program at its Health and Social Service Centers. But the program operates at a much smaller scale, offering about $900,000 over the first 10 months of the pandemic.

The city did not answer questions about whether it would use that existing framework to distribute the $24 million or if getting that much money into the community would require hiring more staff, instead saying the details would be forthcoming.

“We are eager to get this assistance out to hard working families but we need the final guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department. When we have that pathway defined by the federal government, we’ll release additional information,” spokeswoman Kinsey Cooper said in an email.

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