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Wisconsin, Dane County move to establish relief for renters

Wisconsin, Dane County move to establish relief for renters

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Earlier this week, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced the establishment of the $25 million Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program for state residents who have lost income during the coronavirus pandemic.

As the state begins to reopen in phases, many renters who have lost jobs but had the benefit of a moratorium on evictions are in need of assistance to get caught up on past-due rent. Many landlords, who themselves are facing mortgage payments and property maintenance expenses, need that revenue.

Through the Department of Administration, the Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program will provide direct financial assistance for owed rent, security deposits and wrap-around services for program eligible residents using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars.

“Wisconsinites have enough to worry about as we continue to battle the deadly COVID-19 virus,” Evers said in a statement. “They should not also have to worry about losing the roofs over their head. The Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program will hopefully provide peace of mind to a lot of people, as well as a reminder to them that we are all in this together. They have not been forgotten.”

Wisconsin adults with a household income at or below 80% of the county median income in the month of or prior to the application date are eligible for the program. Once approved, eligible individuals can receive assistance of up to $3,000 in a combination of rental payments and/or security deposits. These payments will be paid directly to the landlord on behalf of the tenant.

The DOA will be partnering with Wisconsin Community Action Program Association member agencies to accept applications from whoever is interested in applying.

“Collaborations with ‘boots-on-the-ground’ partner organizations will be critical to ensuring eligible Wisconsin residents are aware of this new program and are able to receive rental assistance relief quickly,” said DOA Secretary Joel Brennan.

This will be the first of two initiatives launched by the DOA, which is planning to release details of the second phase in the upcoming weeks.

The rental assistance comes on the heels of action completed by Dane County earlier this week. On Monday, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced a $10 million eviction relief fund in conjunction with the Tenant Resource Center.

The $10 million will be used by the TRC to help renters pay back overdue rent that has accumulated during the COVID-19 crisis and ease the transition back into paying rent regularly. It will also help landlords get back on solid footing so that they don’t have to sell their properties because of not being able to afford their mortgages.

“Both the renters and the landlords are hurting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Parisi said. “Landlords are hurting, too. Because landlords have mortgages that they pay with the rent and if there’s no rent, they have challenges. So we’re hoping to make a big difference for everyone.”

Landlords inability to pay mortgages could lead to them putting their properties up for sale, which could also result in tenants being displaced.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty for renters,” TRC director Robin Sereno said. “Folks haven’t had income to pay their rent and there’s high anxiety around that. That’s why we have been strongly encouraging folks to communicate with their landlords, pay what they can, knowing once you’re behind it’s hard to catch up.”

The federal moratorium on evictions is set to expire on July 24, but the state moratorium expires May 26. Sereno said some eviction cases, scheduled before the lockdown and delayed due to the moratorium and closed courts, are set to be heard as early as June 2.

Parisi said he hopes the $10 million in eviction relief will be enough to reach about 9,000 people.

Simultaneously, Dane County has allocated $245,000 in a partnership with Catholic Charities to be used as a “moving fund” for people who are experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Parisi, 410 homeless people are currently housed in hotels around the city of Madison. The moving fund will help those residents acquire housing to move to after leaving the hotels.

“If someone’s been homeless and they find a house or an apartment but they might not have that security deposit and that first month’s rent, these movement funds will help for those upfront costs," he said.

Parisi said the county acted quickly at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic to launch a series of initiatives around food security, small business relief, child care and having the hotels in place for people experiencing homelessness.

“And we feel this eviction fund is the other major piece,” Parisi said. “County government is a big piece of the social safety net in our community. So that’s why we’ve focused on the basic necessities of food, shelter, public health and local businesses. Surveys have estimated that nationally up to half the childcare centers could go out of business. And so, when we look at that, there’s no way we are going to let that happen in Dane County. It’s the same with all of these things that are just basic human needs: food, shelter and health care.”

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