The pandemic has rendered thousands of Arkansans unable to pay the rent through no fault of their own. In January the federal government made available $173 million to DHS for rent assistance to Arkansans in 72 counties, and $27 million to Benton, Pulaski, and Washington counties, who have their own programs.
As of last week only 3 percent of its federal money for Arkansas rent assistance has been paid out, to only 2100 families. As of July 31, fewer than 2500 families in the entire state of Arkansas have received aid. As of August 31, only 2908 families in 72 of Arkansas’s 75 counties have received aid. The eviction moratorium is now over, and thousands of Arkansas families are at risk of homelessness. Here are some of the problems:
- The process is disastrously slow. Some tenants who applied in May still have not heard back.
- Although the federal government has loosened its requirements to qualify for assistance (for example, allowing tenants to self-attest to their need), Arkansas has not. DHS says it is “considering whether the relaxed guidelines from the Treasury are appropriate for Arkansas.” Tenants who are facing homelessness are in crisis and are often unable to produce the appropriate paperwork.
- Arkansas’s hard-to-use computer application process is an obstacle to not only tenants but also landlords. It’s our understanding that the companies who are receiving millions of dollars for processing aid applications aren’t using any of this money to hire “navigators” who could be assisting people filling out applications.
- One county rejects incomplete applications after ten days. Ten days is too short a time period and places unnecessary obstacles in the path of rent assistance.
- Landlords can and do refuse assistance. It’s reported that the largest property manager in the state refuses to participate. Tenants of such landlords should not only directly receive the rent they are eligible for (because they will be evicted), but also funds to find new housing.
Last week, the Treasury Department announced new policies, guidelines, and clarification to help protect vulnerable tenants and landlords. We believe these would be especially useful in Arkansas.
- Tenants may self-attest to prove their eligibility, rather than having to obtain documentation. This has already been in place for some time, but Arkansas does not allow it.
- Treasury is establishing guidelines to provide payments in bulk for multiple tenants to large landlords and utilities. This will speed up payments to large numbers of tenants, particularly in urban areas.
- Governments may partner with nonprofits to speed up payment to households facing imminent evictions. This may take the form of provision of multiple services or may involve the creation of a line of credit to expedite payments.
We urge the following:
- Arkansas state and county governments need to loosen requirements for assistance, adopt all Treasury guidelines, and keep these funds (our money, after all) in our state’s economy by assisting those citizens who government exists to serve.
- Judges should use their discretion to not penalize tenants whose landlords refuse rent assistance.
- All citizens should contact their legislators and the Governor’s Office (501-682-2345) and ask for rent assistance to be expedited.
We also urge Arkansas to follow the most recent Treasury policies and guidelines and expand the pipeline to get needed relief to eligible tenants before it’s too late. Homelessness not only has a disastrous effect on individuals’ lives but also hurts the economy. Thank you.
FROM: Arkansans for Stronger Communities, Americans for Prosperity, Arkansas Community Organizations, Arkansas Public Policy Panel, Arkansas Renters United, Catholic Charities of Arkansas, Central Arkansas Reentry Coalition, Citizens First Congress, Disability Rights Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care