Home Finance specialist Rental, utility assistance available throughout Nebraska

Rental, utility assistance available throughout Nebraska

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OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) – MACCH and others want to spread the word: funds are available for rent and utilities.

“You’ll see our billboards, our bus wraps,” said Lisa Vukov, director of the continuum of care for the homeless in the metropolitan area. “We have outreach activities that will go directly to landlords and landlords.”

When applications through MACCH were not available earlier this year, Vukov said he worked to revamp the application process. She said they were inundated with applications when they relaunched on April 1.

“We hope the process will be easier for people this time around,” she said.

To be eligible, renters must be at or below 80% of the median income for their family size. In addition, at least one person in the household must be able to:

  • Explain how the pandemic has negatively impacted them financially, directly or indirectly.
  • Show risk of homelessness or housing instability.

Vukov said “the vast majority of people in the United States have experienced some kind of economic hardship due to the pandemic.” They dig into the individual’s situation, but someone who was laid off from a struggling business today might qualify.

“There’s nothing that’s going to flip a switch and it’s all over,” Vukov said. “We took in a population that was already living paycheck to paycheck…which is taking a long time to recover.”

The maximum amount available is 12 months of salary arrears and three months of future rent and utilities. MACCH began accepting repeat applications when it relaunched in April.

United Way’s 211 helpline is a catch-all for people who need help. Calls to 211 doubled between 2019 and 2021.

Links to Tenant Programs:

Owners

There is also a fund explicitly available to owners. The Nebraska Homeowner Assistance Fund opened in February, through the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority. They’ve spent about $1 million of the $50 million available through 2026, said NIFA executive director Shannon Harner.

The fund can cover mortgages, property taxes, and other property-related expenses, such as HOA fees. It does not cover utilities, but it refers people to others who do.

Like rental programs, NHAF is for those who have seen a negative impact from the pandemic. Someone who lost their job due to the state of the economy today “would generally” qualify if they met all the other criteria, Harner said.

Money in the bank

Existing rental assistance funds expire Sept. 30, but it appears Douglas and Lancaster counties will be able to fund the programs beyond that date.

Vukov said MCACH reopened in April with $61 million, mostly from reallocated funds from the Nebraska state program. Of that, they’ve spent a quarter to a fifth so far, she said, and hopes it will last until the September 30 expiry.

The Christian Outreach Elkhorn program, for tenants in Douglas County outside Omaha, has $2 million that is expected to last through September 30, COPE’s Jane Gordan said. Nebraska’s program has $25 million, according to Governor’s spokesman Pete Ricketts, who doesn’t expect the funds to run out until Sept. 30.

Inflation, housing and food

United Way of the Midlands’ Matt Wallen says the community has a high level of need and is affected by a ‘new phenomenon’ called ‘inflation inequality’.

He said that because inflation has hit essentials, including housing and food, particularly hard, those living in poverty are seeing higher inflation than those with higher incomes.

Utilities were up 12% from a year ago, he said.

“It’s a lot harder to be able to support your…households because of this inflation,” Wallen said. “Incomes are not growing at the same rate as this inflation.”

Despite the financial conditions, philanthropy remained strong in the community, he said.

Busy in eviction court

There’s been a steady upward trend in deportation filings, Nebraska Legal Aid attorney Scott Mertz said.

Evictions can be ordered the same day, but the vast majority are prevented. MACCH has a specialist in the Deportation Court every day. They work with volunteer lawyers and Legal Aid to prevent evictions.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing some landlords unwilling to work with rental assistance programs,” Mertz said.

Funds can be paid directly to the tenant if the landlord does not accept the funds. It takes longer, however, Mertz said. When landlords don’t cooperate, the court gets busier, he said.

And after?

Ricketts declined to apply for rental assistance available beyond Sept. 30 and vetoed a bill that would have required him to do so. But it appears that Douglas and Lancaster counties will still receive federal government funding.

For MACCH, the possible end of funding terrifies Vukov. However, the U.S. Treasury assured her that jurisdictions in Nebraska, including Douglas County, would get the first money out of funds that would have flowed to Nebraska, she said.

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