Apartment buildings and row homes in Columbia Borough are seen from the air. (Photo: Kevin Flounlacker)
Apartment buildings and row homes in Columbia Borough are seen from the air. (Photo: Kevin Flounlacker)

Lancaster County's Emergency Rental Assistance program will open for applications this coming Monday, March 8, and officials expect to have nearly $36 million in relief funds to draw on.

Justin Eby

The Lancaster County Housing Authority is administering the program locally. Deputy executive director Justin Eby said there has already been outreach to nearly 300 tenants who have indicated they need help.

Still, officials won't have a firm sense of the level of demand for aid until applications start coming in, he said.

The money comes from the $900 billion Covid-19 relief package that Congress passed in December. The county received $16.3 million directly; another $19.6 million in federal funding is available indirectly through the state.

Related: Forums offered on rental assistance program

According to documentation on the state component of the assistance, the program is budgeting roughly $10,000 per household to assist 1,784 households. Around 9% of the funds go toward "housing stability services" and administrative costs. Applying the same rules of thumb, the federal funds would be enough to cover more than 1,460 additional households. Actual expenditures, of course, will depend on applicants' particular circumstances, as documented in their leases, bills and so on.

By the numbers

  • Rental units in Lancaster County: 62,179
  • 2021 fair market rent (2BR apt.) $1,018

Sources: U.S. Census, HUD

Renters in Lancaster County and the rest of the U.S. have been protected from eviction for nonpayment by a nationwide moratorium. It's set to expire at the end of March, raising concerns that a wave of evictions could follow. Households facing an eviction filing will be prioritized for assistance, Eby said.

Emergency Rental Assistance follows two predecessor programs: Rental Relief, a program set up by the state that ran last summer and fall, and an interim local program funded with Community Development Block Grant dollars.

Officials are still putting the new program's systems in place, so it may take a week or so after the application portal is opened before they start to process submissions.

Full information is available on the authority website. It can be accessed via the web address www.lancasterhelp.rent.

Here is an FAQ about the program:

Who is eligible?

Rental households can receive assistance if they meet the following criteria:

  • Experienced a financial loss due to the coronavirus pandemic;
  • Are at risk of homelessness or housing instability;
  • Earn no more than 80% of Lancaster County's median income (For a household of four, that works out to $63,600).

 

Even if you didn't fall behind, you may be eligible for aid if you suffered an income loss due to the pandemic, Eby said: for example, if you had a reduction in work hours and had to draw down your savings to pay living expenses. Case managers will be able to help applicants determine if they qualify.

Residents of public housing are eligible for help with the portion of their rent they pay, Eby said.

What assistance can they receive?

Households can receive up to 12 months of assistance with rent and utilities, including past-due payments from March 13, 2020, onward. An additional three months of assistance can be provided, if needed to maintain housing stability.

Late fees and penalties can be included, as well as security deposits and first month's rent for households obliged to relocate. Other eligible expenses include court fees and legal representation related to eviction proceedings.

Expenses already covered through a previous assistance program aren't eligible.

How do I apply?

You can apply directly through www.lancasterhelp.rent. You can also call the United Way of Lancaster County's 211 help line for a referral, or call one of the locations partnering on the program for an appointment. (Click here and scroll down for a full list.)

What documentation do I need?

Applicants should be prepared to document their situation in detail. They should have their lease agreement, bank statements and any eviction or late-payment notices, along with pay stubs, notifications related to unemployment status, and so on. Case managers can help determine what is needed.

What if I need help with the application?

Assistance is available, including bilingual assistance, at various sites: See the list at the bottom of the authority's Emergency Rental Assistance information page. There will also be a telephone help line once the program is up and running.

How long will it take to process applications?

Officials don't know yet. Once an application is complete, however, households will be issued a receipt they can use to show their landlords they've applied. Applicants and landlords will be able to track the progress of their cases online.

What if my application is denied due to an error?

Applicants will have the opportunity to appeal decisions to a local review panel.

Will tenants receive the money directly?

Wherever possible, payments will be made directly to creditors — that is, landlords and utility companies.

Tim Stuhldreher