“I worked hard to make these federal rent relief funds available to help Rhode Islanders facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I commend RIHousing for accelerating efforts to get these funds out the door to prevent evictions and keep people stably housed,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, who helped include $200 million for Rhode Islanders through the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-260) as well as $152 million in additional ERA funding for Rhode Islanders in the American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117-2).
“I am pleased that we are celebrating this important milestone and that thousands of Rhode Island households can go to bed tonight with one less worry,” said Governor Dan McKee. “It is critical we keep our foot on the gas and continue recent efforts to distribute these funds to those most in need. Rhode Island renter households are relying on this lifeline to keep them housed this winter and landlords rely on these funds to help them meet their financial responsibilities. Utilizing these federal resources as effectively and strategically as possible will help Rhode Island and Rhode Islanders come out of this pandemic stronger.”
Funded via the U.S. Treasury, RentReliefRI has undergone significant changes in recent weeks to create a more streamlined application and review process. On August 26, Treasury released guidance providing additional flexibility for these federal funds and in response, RentReliefRI staff developed streamlined application and review processes. The combination of changes to the application and review process and expanded partner outreach and application assistance have resulted in dramatic increases in the number and amount of approvals.
“The COVID-19 crisis continues to impact Rhode Islanders across the state,” said RI House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi. “Rhode Island renters have felt the brunt of job losses, financial hardship and housing instability due to the pandemic. RentReliefRI funds offer an opportunity for us to help families get back on track and stay in their homes. These recent changes will allow us to help even more families remain in their homes.”
Launched in March of this year, the program provides financial assistance to cover rent arrears, forward facing rent, utility arrears and certain other housing expenses. Eligible renter households must be at or below 80% of Area Median Income (AMI), which translates into roughly $69,200 annual income for a family of four in most parts of the State. Applicants may apply for help with paying for utilities even if they do not need help paying for rent and there is no monthly cap on eligible rent relief.
“I’m excited that the streamlined process has resulted in improvement in finally getting this available assistance into the hands of Rhode Islanders in need,” said RI Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. “This important milestone demonstrates that increased cooperation can improve results for everyday Rhode Islanders. It’s imperative that we continue working together to ensure these dollars are distributed efficiently to keep families in their homes this winter.”
Of the $50 million in approved assistance, over $19.4 million has been approved to cover rental arrearages while over $10 million has been awarded for future rental payments. To date $2.7 million has been awarded and an additional $16 million has been committed to cover electricity and gas utility arrearages, because of a collaboration between RentReliefRI and National Grid. The assistance will reduce or clear the utility arrearages of many low- and moderate-income customers, helping these households get back on track from the effects of the pandemic.
“We are proud to be working alongside RIHousing to get these critical funds into the hands of Rhode Island customers,” said Brian Schuster, Director of Customer and Community Management at National Grid. “This innovative joint venture can help to keep the lights and heat on for thousands of Rhode Island renter households.”
Recent changes to the program application requirements and review process have helped to streamline the approval process and get more funds out the door. Weekly funding approvals averaged $500,000 in June 2021, increasing to $2 million by August and are now averaging $1 million/day in approvals. The average assistance approved per household is $7,678.
“Updated guidance from the U.S. Treasury offers us the opportunity to be flexible in assisting more Rhode Island renters, and assisting them more quickly,” said Carol Ventura, Executive Director of RIHousing, the agency charged with administering the program. “RIHousing is committed to continuing our efforts alongside state and community partners to respond to the housing challenges facing Rhode Island families.”
Available statewide, to date, the top ten municipalities based on funding approvals are: Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Cranston, North Providence, Central Falls, West Warwick, Warwick, East Providence, Johnston. Program data illustrates that of the approved applications, 63% of applicants represent minority populations. National Grid customers will still be required to provide an attestation of eligibility to RIHousing to have the assistance funds credited to their account.