Rent deferral program eases residents anxiety but raises landlords’
SALT LAKE CITY — For Utah residents ineligible for unemployment insurance during the global coronavirus pandemic, a new $4 million deferral program that took effect this week may help cover their rent payments and avoid eviction.
Gov. Gary Herbert’s executive order on rent deferral and evictions, which began April 1, expires Friday.
A group of advocates for low-income tenants are requesting Herbert extend the rent deferral program and eviction ban until July 15.
What about landlords?
Paul Smith of the Utah Apartment Association joined Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to give a landlord’s perspective on a possible two-month extension on the rent deferral program.
“Is the apartment association willing to wait two more months if the governor extends this directive that landlords can’t go after evictions for tenants?” Debbie asked.
“We would oppose that. There’s no other industry that has floated citizens of Utah in this crisis,” Smith said. “Gas stations haven’t said ‘Hey, come fill up and take 45 days to pay. Grocery stores don’t say ‘Fill up your car and take 45 days to pay.’ We’ve done our part now.”
Smith explained that the rent deferral program froze evictions on a narrow population of tenants who were paid up through the end of March and who lost income, jobs, were hospitalized or quarantined due to COVID-19.
“We’re proud that we got behind that early. Landlords have really been super heroes in this crisis,” Smith said.
As soon as tenants received their unemployment-insurance payments or federal stimulus checks, they paid their rent, he said.
“Utah has the lowest delinquency in the United States. Most renters have paid. . . There’s always a certain percentage of people who struggle to pay rent. April of 2020 didn’t turn out to be much different than a normal month,” Smith said.
Who can get the rent deferral help?
Jonathan Handy, the Housing Community Development director at the Department of Workforce Services, also joined Debbie and Dave to explain the new $4 million rental assistance program for those not eligible to collect unemployment insurance.
“Can you give us an idea of what that person looks like, the people who are falling through the cracks?” Dave asked.
“People who have worked more than one full-time job,” Handy said. “So if you’ve working 40 hours, and you’ve worked another job on top of that, and lost that income, you probably not be eligible for unemployment insurance.
“Undocumented households are not eligible for unemployment insurance,” he added. “I know some reports of people who have had to take salary reductions. They may still be working 40 hours a week, so they are not going to be eligible for unemployment insurance.”
Who else is eligible?
“What about folks who have had to be hospitalized or have come down with COVID-19? We have well over 6,000 cases now in the state of Utah. Would they be eligible for this program?” Debbie asked.
“Really the only criteria is you can’t qualify for unemployment insurance,” Handy said. “We always want to send people there first because not only will it help them make their housing payment, but it will help with all the other financial obligations that they have at that time. So if they can’t get help there, they’re certainly eligible for this program.”
Handy said the rent payment goes directly to the landlord.
“Everybody is made whole, and the tenant can stay housed in that unit,” Handy said.
“Where does this money come from and how long will you be able to provide this benefit?” Dave asked.
Handy said the assistance comes from two federal sources: $1 million comes from HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) and the remaining $3 million comes from the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security).
Handy said for those who don’t qualify for unemployment insurance and need rental assistance, begin by calling 2-1-1.
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