The first $15,000 from Boston’s $3 million rental relief fund has been distributed, just ahead of the first-of- the-month, a rental due date for many of Boston hundreds of thousands of renters.
Mayor Marty Walsh announced the fund in early April.
“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a national crisis at a scale not seen in our lifetime, it is imperative that all levels of government exercise all possible tools to ensure the health and safety of our residents, and to keep them stably housed,” Walsh said at the time of the announcement.
The fund was established to help lower-income Boston residents at risk of losing their rental housing due to the COVID-19 crisis. It’s managed by the city’s Office of Housing Stability along with nonprofit partners Metro Housing Boston and Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH).
While the money paid out thus far represents just one half of one percent of the total fund, it does not reflect a lack of interest in the program – or the need for rental assistance among city residents.
The city received 5,500 applications from residents over a five-day application period in April. A lottery system was created, and about 800 applicants were moved into the processing phase.
The fund pays out directly to landlords in lieu of rent payments from qualifying participants. To qualify, renters must earn less than 80 percent of the area medium income, which in Boston is $63,500 for an individual and $90,650 for a family of four. They also can’t be eligible for expanded unemployment benefits from the federal government or the benefits they do receive must represent a significant reduction in their actual income. Applicants also need to demonstrate that they do not have savings to cover the cost of rent.
Residents who meet the criteria are eligible for up to $4,000 in rental assistance.
“We now have about 400 clients that we’re working with,” said Linda Foster, a director at NOAH, which is responsible for processing nearly half of the fund’s $3 million dollars.
Foster said those clients are in various stages of the application and approval process.
“It’s not just a matter of being able to send an application to people with an email,” she said. “It’s much more complex.”
Gaps in technology, language barriers and challenges obtaining documentation from banks and workplaces amidst social distancing measures are a few examples of what's slowing down the processing, Foster added. Still, she said, the funds will get distributed as quickly as possible.
“This money will be spent,” she said. “And I’m sure there’s a need for more.”
Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development said more payments are expected to be distributed next week.