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Just in front of a deadline that would allow for evictions to begin for renters, the state of Indiana has announced a COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program. Governor Eric Holcomb announced the program during his weekly press briefing last week. The $25 million program will come out of CARES Act funding to help Hoosiers struggling to make rent because of the coronavirus.

“This has been a very challenging time for Hoosiers, and the economic impacts of COVID-19 has left some renters in a tough spot,” Gov. Holcomb said last week during the briefing. “The Indiana COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program will support our renters, improve our state’s housing stability and help prevent evictions as the state gets back on track.”

Local officials say the program may be landing at just about the right time.

“That sound like something that will certainly be helpful,” said Washington Township Trustee Michelle Guy. “We have not had a lot of requests for assistance. It really began to pick up as we headed toward July. I have had several families contacting the trustee’s office looking for help whose income was hurt by the coronavirus. I have talked to some of the non-profits and they say that as the deadlines for rent and utilities approach they are getting more requests.”

“We are still an initial point of contact for people needing help,” said Sherry Davis, executive director for Connections. “We are getting some more calls on both rent and utility assistance.”

The governor’s new program will provide up to $500 in assistance for four months, totaling a maximum of $2,000 in assistance to eligible renters to help cover past and ongoing rent payments or late fees.

To be eligible, renters must have lost their job or part of their income due to COVID-19. Their current household income, including unemployment, has to be less than the household income on March 6, and they cannot have received rental assistance from another source.

The program has enough money to help as many as 12,000 households.

The Washington Housing Authority has voted to work with the governor’s program.

“This is not about any of the people who are currently renting from us because people on HUD do not qualify,” said Washington Housing Authority Executive Director Samantha Bobbitt. “We are looking to reach out to those who might be falling through the cracks.”

The governor says he is going to announce a deadline on extensions for evictions but has not put out a specific date.

“The goal of this program is to create some stability in rental housing,” said Emily Krauser director of community programs for the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, during a video meeting with social agencies in Daviess County Friday.

Governor Holcomb also said he is considering extending the deadline for utility shut-offs but is awaiting some guidance from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

Right now Washington Utilities are looking at starting to cut off customers around July 13 or 14.

“We do have people who are 90 to 100 days behind,” said Washington Utilities Manager Stacie Anderson. “Everyone has been notified and those will be at the top of the list when we begin disconnections. If they contact us, we are still willing to work with them.”

“Whenever those cut-offs start to hit, we will be scrambling,” said Guy. “I am really afraid the worst is yet to come. July and August may determine how well we come out of this.”

“We have not been as busy as we thought we would be but we are trying to get prepared for when the rush comes” added Davis. “I think we have been lucky because the hit in this county has not been as bad as some other parts of the state. My big worry is that when it does hit where will we put people who have been evicted.”

Davis points out that the community has no shelters or places for people to turn if they lose their homes.

The potenial backlog of rent and utility payments caused by the coronavirus is not the only issue.

“This is normally the time of year when our requests for assistance increase,” said Guy. “The calls are already up.”

The trustee says any assistance is going to be helpful.

“My office is built to help people in a normal year,” said Guy. “What we are seeing is not normal.”

Applications for the COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program will be accepted online beginning at 9 a.m. on Monday, July 13 at www.indianahousingnow.org.

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