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COVID-19 relief will help shore up rent assistance programs

The Housing Authority of Jackson County will receive $375,002 in federal COVID-19 aid to help keep people housed and safe during the pandemic.

The money is part of $5.7 million in grants going out to housing authorities across Oregon, and $1.25 billion being provided nationwide for rent assistance programs through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress.

“COVID-19 has put large stresses on an overwhelming number of households in their ability to afford housing,” said Jason Elzy, executive director of the Housing Authority of Jackson County.

Even before the pandemic, one in three renters in Jackson County were extremely rent burdened — meaning they spent more than half of their income on rent, he said.

For extremely low-income households, the situation was even worse, with four in five households paying more than 50% of their income for rent, Elzy said.

Households that spend most of their income on housing have little left over for food, transportation, health care, child care and other expenses.

Over the past several years, rental vacancy rates have been extremely low, and rent costs have been rising in the Rogue Valley. Meanwhile, area median income has remained stagnant.

Local residents and people across the nation are now struggling with skyrocketing unemployment from COVID-19 restrictions, making it even harder to afford housing.

Elzy said local housing authorities have been given a list of eligible expenses for using the federal COVID-19 aid.

They can use the money to pay for cleaning supplies and services, relocating families who need to go into quarantine, delivering food and medicine to clients, maintaining or boosting the number of landlords participating in rental voucher programs, hiring temporary workers, child care for staff, extra administrative costs, and security.

“The Housing Authority of Jackson County is currently reviewing this list and other HUD guidelines to maximize the impact the CARES Act funds will have locally so we may respond appropriately when funds are received,” Elzy said. “HAJC’s priorities are to keep residents and staff safe, and keep people housed during this time.”

The Housing Authority manages the Housing Choice voucher program, which pays a portion of a household’s rent and allows people to choose where to live.

The Housing Authority also owns and manages more than 1,500 rental units that offer below-market rent, and has a 0% interest loan program to help low-income homeowners repair and weatherize their homes.

There are waiting lists for some programs, and the Housing Authority does not provide emergency housing. Call 211 or see www.211info.org for information about emergency shelters and other resources.

The United Way of Jackson County is providing more immediate emergency help for people struggling to pay rent and other bills — including the newly unemployed who haven’t been participants in voucher or subsidized housing programs.

The social services organization has received $330,704 in donations to its COVID-19 Fund and has distributed $210,871 so far to help families and individuals.

To donate or apply for help, see unitedwayofjacksoncounty.org.

The Jackson County Housing Authority office is currently closed. For more information about programs, see hajc.net or call 541-779-5785, ext. 1000.

COVID-19 aid is going to other Southern Oregon housing authorities, including $137,732 for Josephine Housing Community Development; $124,366 for the Housing Authority of Douglas County; $124,468 for the Klamath Housing Authority, and $119,762 for Coos-Curry Housing Authority.

“Oregonians battling the multiple economic challenges triggered by this public health crisis need to know there’s support available when they’re staying at home and fighting to keep a roof over their heads,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in a press release. “I am gratified these local housing authorities are receiving this much-needed assistance to help the renters counting on them in Oregon.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneHousing Authority of Jackson County apartments at the corner of 6th Street and Grape Street in downtown Medford.