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Rent help is available

If you’re behind on your rent and aren’t sure you can pay it when the eviction ban ends there’s help available — $60 million allocated by the state Legislature a few months ago — so it’s important you apply for it ASAP, because there’s big demand and you’ll want to avoid any paperwork jam.

The funding is intended to keep people in their homes or commercial spaces by directly paying landlords so they won’t evict you.

You qualify if, because of COVID-19 impacts, you now receive less than $3,042 per month (80% of median income), says state Rep. Pam Marsh, who has worked with local agencies to set up the program.

You can tap into the grants (not loans) by calling ACCESS, United Way, St. Vincent de Paul, Unete, Family Nurturing Center and Options for Helping Residents of Ashland.

The funding comes from the state and is passed through from the federal CARES Act. Standards and rules vary among local agencies, Marsh says, but the goal is housing for people damaged by COVID-19, covering the six months from March until now and the months until the end of this year.

What happens after that is not yet clear.

“There’s a lot of help out there,” said Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way of Jackson County. “You need to reach out before you get evicted. The opportunity is there to pay back rent or forward, also utilities.” The application is on the United Way website.

It’s up to renters to start the rent checks moving down the pipeline, said Everson, adding that she’s talked to some landlords who say some renters are not yet reaching out and launching it.

“This is an incredibly stressful time for everyone — renters, landlords, power companies, car mechanics,” says Everson. “The key is to spread the word as much as possible that help is out there and you need to reach for it.”

United Way and other agencies say that, because of virus safety, it’s best to call and get the process moving, sending documents digitally. Screen shots of documents with your phone are fine, says Cat Sinclair of OHRA.

“People are very much thinking about getting the rent subsidies and taking action,” says Sinclair. “We’re seeing a lot of people unstably housed now, after losing jobs in the restaurant industry. We’re seeing a lot of people who don’t normally use our services.”

Sinclair says they see some 50 people a day, walk applicants through the process, get the lease agreement, layoff notice, and get checks off to landlords. She asks applicants phone first, find out what documents are needed, then make an appointment to come in. Appointments are done with masks and distancing at their shop next to Safeway in Ashland.

OHRA also handles Section 8 HUD low-income vouchers (as rent payment) — and also helps homeless people by offering Wi-Fi, securing birth certificates, working on stimulus checks, unemployment and showers and laundry on Tuesdays and Thursdays at First United Methodist Church in Ashland.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

file photo Lisa Smith of Options For Helping Residents of Ashland listens to a client explain his difficulty in finding a place in Ashland.