Nonprofits working together to offer rent, utility assistance to those affected by COVID

  • GILBREATH

Seven local nonprofits are partnering together to allocate $21 million in rent and utility assistance to individuals affected by COVID-19, and a series of upcoming meetings will detail how those funds will be deployed by the end of the year.

According to hawaiicountyerap.org, money for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program comes from Hawaii County through federal funding and will provide rent and utility grants to an estimated 3,400 households that meet income eligibility requirements and can prove hardship experienced because of COVID-19.

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Jeff Gilbreath, executive director of Hawaii Community Lending, which is leading the county’s ERAP, said the grant program centers around the idea that six Big Island-based nonprofits — Hawaii First Federal Credit Union, HOPE Services Hawaii, Neighborhood Place of Puna, Habitat for Humanity Hawaii Island, Hawaii County Economic Opportunity Council and the Salvation Army — accept and process applications and pay out grants.

That’s a different model than other counties have used to administer similar funds, he said.

Typically, Gilbreath said one nonprofit organization would administer all the grant money, but with this setup, “you’ve basically got six back offices cutting checks versus one. The idea is you have six times the ability to get dollars out the door and (it is) not creating a bottle neck.”

During the upcoming meetings, Gilbreath said the partners are looking to engage with landlords, businesses and utility companies to share what the program is about and “what can we do together to make sure this information gets out to the community so we really help those who are most in need.”

Among efforts to reach those in need, Gilbreath said property managers and landlords can submit applications on behalf of tenants with the tenant’s approval, the hui will pursue partnerships with utility companies to include information about the program on statements and program representatives will provide information at food distribution sites and vaccination clinics.

The upcoming meetings will be hosted virtually by Hawaii Community Lending and the Office of Housing and Community Development. Meetings are are set for:

• 5-6 p.m. Tuesday, April 20 (landlords/property managers/utility companies).

• 5-6 p.m. Wednesday, April 21 (businesses and employers).

• Noon-1 p.m. Thursday, April 22 (nonprofits).

• 5-6 p.m. Tuesday, April 27 (general community).

• Noon-1 p.m. Wednesday April 28 (nonprofits).

• 5-6 p.m. Thursday, April 29 (general community).

Those interested in registering for a community and business leader meeting should email Maile Lavea-Malloe at maile@hawaiiancommunity.net.

Gilbreath said ERAP money going out from the nonprofit partners are grant dollars that don’t have to be repaid.

To qualify for rent and utility grants, applicants must be Hawaii Island residents at least 18 years old and have lost income because of COVID-19.

A household’s 2020 or current annual gross income must be at or below 80% of the area median income for the number of members in the household. For example, the maximum annual income for a single-person household is $47,950 and $68,500 for a four-person household.

Priority, however, will be given to households at or below 50% of the area median income with household members who have been unemployed for 90 days or more.

The program launched Monday and Gilbreath said Thursday that applications were already being approved.

Funds must be committed by the end of September, he said, but can be paid out through the end of December.

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More information can be found online at hawaiicountyerap.org.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.