The West Virginia Mountaineer Rental Assistance program is now sending money to landlords on behalf of tenants unable to pay during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The federal program was created by Congress and approved by former President Donald Trump in the December 2020 COVID-19 relief bill, supplying $25 billion for the country and $200 million for West Virginia.
Ronceverte Recorder Leah Smith works with Legal Aid of West Virginia. In this role, Smith assists residents who need help with the Mountaineer Rental Assistance program.
“It’s pretty wide open – it isn’t available for everyone but if you fall into a certain low income, which most West Virginians are going to,” said Smith. “If you know someone in Ronceverte or [Greenbrier County] as a whole that might be helped by this … they just go to the West Virginia Housing and Development Fund. That’s the agency that had been administering this money from the federal government, we’re just trying to get the word out that the moratorium ended effectively two days ago, so people are going to start losing and becoming homeless as a result.”
According to the website, eligible expenses may include:
– Past due and current rent beginning April 1, 2020 and up to three months forward rent.
– Past due and current water, sewer, gas, electric and home energy costs such as propane.
– A one-time $300 stipend for internet expenses so you can use the internet for distance learning, telework, telemedicine and/or to obtain government services.
– “There is no cap on the amount of assistance provided, however, households are only eligible for 12 months of assistance unless it is determined additional assistance is needed for housing stability. In no instance will assistance be provided for more than 15 months.”
The program’s website also notes that “not all renters are eligible for assistance. In general, the program is designed to assist West Virginia residential renters with annual income of no more than 80 percent of area median income and:”
– “One or more household members has qualified for unemployment benefits, experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak.”
– “One or more household members are at risk of homelessness or housing instability such as a past due utility or rent notice or an eviction notice.”
– When applying, several documents will be needed, such as a current lease or certification of landlord/tenant relationship, a proof of identification for the head of household, proof of residency, the most recent utility bill for utility assistance, and proof of income.
“If you know anybody that’s hurting and hasn’t been able to pay rent, please apply,” said Smith. “It is unprecedented. We’re not likely to see another amount of money like this available. It’s to pay 15 months of rent. … The other really cool things about the program is that it’s available for not only tenants who are unable to pay rent but landlords. They’re hurting too cause they haven’t been able to get rent. … Landlords won’t be able to get it if they kick people out, so they need to keep people in. … There’s also money for utility assistance for people that haven’t been able to pay during COVID. There’s money for that too.”
A moratorium on evictions based on inability to pay rent was approved as part of the CARES Act in March of 2020. This did not include evictions filed before the moratorium or where the eviction is based on other reasons besides nonpayment of rent. This is a huge reason the rental assistance funds were made available.
“There’s been a moratorium on evictions in the whole country since the beginning of the pandemic to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” Smith said. “The government, in recognition of so many people that are out there hurting, either directly or indirectly have a reduction of income because of COVID, has allotted an unprecedented amount of money, billions of dollars, for the country and millions in West Virginia, to assist people who haven’t been able to pay rent.”
The original moratorium was set to expire last week, but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed a new order instating another moratorium until October 3, 2021.
“The emergence of the delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated,” said Walensky in a CDC press release. “This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads. It is imperative that public health authorities act quickly to mitigate such an increase of evictions, which could increase the likelihood of new spikes in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Such mass evictions and the attendant public health consequences would be very difficult to reverse.”
Recently, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported that there are approximately 3,400 cases of COVID-19 throughout the state, including the Delta variant.
“We’re starting to see a more rapid increase,” said Governor Jim Justice during his Friday, August 6, press briefing. “There needs to be more and more concern about getting yourself vaccinated because we’re running out of time. … It will only get worse if we don’t really aggressively run and get vaccinated today.”
To apply for the program, go to wvhdf.com and click the orange link on the top of the page that reads “real help for West Virginia renters and landlords is here.” The site also notes calling 211 can provide assistance. The website also offers a place to insert an address to have a physical application mailed.