Monterey funding runs out for renter assistance

Peninsula Premier Admin

MONTEREY — An assistance program that has been a lifesaver for well over 150 renters in Monterey has depleted its funding, with officials hoping stimulus money for renters headed to the county will be shared in part with the city of Monterey.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, the city established its Emergency Rental Assistance Program with an $800,000 budget in August. The program was partially federally funded through the city’s share of the Community Development Block Grant program, the city’s own Housing Program income and the federal CARES Act.

The assistance has been critical for the 162 households that were eligible for the grant money, said both the city and renters advocates. There were many more who applied for assistance but who did not meet stringent requirements established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

And the demand for assistance hasn’t abated. Grant Leonard, Monterey’s housing analyst who oversaw the program, said the city has seen an increase in the number of applications for assistance since December, following the second statewide shelter in place order.

In the final week of the program, the city issued 35 payments totaling $101,173, Leonard said. While the budget targeted $800,000, the city added additional funding through housing income, such as lease payments, to bring the total up to roughly $900,000.

Esther Malkin, the founding director of Monterey Renters United, said the program was very critical “since to qualify you basically had to be impoverished because you had to meet the HUD qualification parameters.

“There are a lot more renters than 162 in the city, so while the assistance program helped and did get to the people who needed it, it also excluded more people than it helped,” Malkin said.

The way the HUD requirements work is to establish an income cap. People who qualified for the assistance program had to make 80% of the Average Median Income per household, a figure decided by HUD. In Monterey that would include individuals making $54,250 or less a year. A household of four would need to make $77,500 or less.

“There is still an immediate and unprecedented need for rental assistance caused by the pandemic,” said City Manager Hans Uslar. “Unlike other economies in the county, the hospitality industry is disproportionately affected by the pandemic and the health orders.”

Emergency rental assistance is a significant need for residents given the economic impacts of COVID-19. Renter-occupied households account for 65.9 percent of total occupied units; 35.3 percent are low to moderate-income, and more than half (51.8 percent) experience one or more housing problems, the city reported.

Meanwhile, Monterey County has received $26.7 million in federal funding for rental assistance through the latest stimulus act. The county tasked United Way Monterey County to develop a mechanism for the distribution of those funds. Leonard said the city is hopeful that it will receive some of that funding so it can continue its assistance program.

“Should the city receive funding through the county and United Way, 100% of the funds would go directly to those who need it,” Leonard said.

Contributed by local news sources

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