OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – Some of us may have let our guard down, thinking the worst of COVID-19 is over.
But for the 42% of Omaha renters who were considered cost-burdened even before the pandemic, keeping their homes remains a monthly challenge.
”We took a group of low-income households and we threw a pandemic at them and now they are really struggling to get back ahead,” said Lisa Vukov, Director of Programs and Compliance for the non-profit Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH). “The ramifications of this are gonna last for years to come.”
The first two rounds of federal COVID funds for rental assistance totaled $35 million, assisting more than 8,200 families in the Omaha metro in 2021.
The current third round of rental assistance for the COVID-impacted may be even more critical, considering the rising cost of rentals and a shortfall of some 78,000 affordable units in the metro cited in last year’s housing affordability study.
“This is a game-changer for these tenants who are facing a critical life issue right now,” said Laurel Heer Dale, director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project at Nebraska State Bar Association. “They’re facing homelessness.”
Heer Dale puts volunteer lawyers with people facing eviction, and says many of those she sees apply for rental assistance have never experienced anything like this.
“Even one (person) we talked to this morning, it was the difference between, ‘should I feed my family tonight, and tomorrow, and the next night, or should I pay my rent?” she said. “They’re used to paying their rent and used to paying their bills and all of a sudden they’re behind because they’ve lost their job or they had to take time off of work because of illness. These funds can help pay forward and for for so many families, that’s what they need. That’s the stabilizer.”
Vukov said they’ve done what they can to create a smoother application process. They’ve simplified the form and added another non-profit to assist.
And even if someone has received funds in the past, they are allowed to apply if they remain eligible for rent and utility assistance.
“We are finally able to assist folks we have previously helped with rental assistance,” Vukov said. “The last time, the need was so tremendous that we had far too many applications to allow folks to come back for a second request. It just didn’t feel right to grant a second request to individuals when we hadn’t been able to help everybody with their first request. This replenishment of the fifty million dollars form the US Treasury, we are now able to open that application process up to folks we have assisted previously with both rent and utilities.”
They even have a dedicated call center at 211. Callers need to simply tell the operator they are seeking information about the rent assistance program and they will be connected.
Omaha property owners or managers can initiate applications on behalf of their tenants as well.
MACCH handles the distribution of funds in the Omaha city limits. Eligibility can be checked by address on their website.
There are also funds available elsewhere in the county through COPE.
Vukov said there is also a new program available for homeowners who are behind on mortgage payments through the American Rescue Plan Act.
The current deadline for application of funds is September 30, 2022. The funds are expected to be distributed by December 31, 2022.
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