The state will spend another $20 million to help those struggling to pay their rent during the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Wednesday.

“I’m trying to get people back to work and children back to school, and having a home you can call your own is a critical foundation for making that happen,” said Lamont. “Tenants who can pay their rent on time should do so, and landlords and tenants should work together to develop reasonable payment plans for these extraordinary circumstances,” he said.

He also extended his eviction moratorium to the end of the year.

Faced with a backlog of 7,400 families who qualified for help – and having helped only two families  six months into the pandemic – the state’s rental assistance program stopped accepting new applications almost five weeks ago.

To clear the applicant logjam, the state has quadrupled the number of staff members processing the existing applications and will “streamline the application process,” a state Department of Housing official said. It wasn’t immediately clear what changes were made to speed up the process except that renters and landlords will be able to apply online.

Once these changes are fully implemented, the state expects to again begin accepting applications in mid-October. It has until the end of December to spend these federal funds.

Nearly 30,000 people have applied for the program, a number that was whittled down to 7,375 through the pre-approval process. The $20 million the state initially earmarked for rental assistance was only enough funding to provide $4,000 to roughly 5,000 households. People seeking to apply for the aid initially faced a busy signal or a long wait to get through, and the program stopped taking applications Aug. 28, just six weeks after it opened.

“We paused intake because the program was slow. This allowed us to redesign it and increase staff capacity in anticipation of additional funding. I’ve always maintained to stakeholders that we are evaluating the program on an ongoing basis. The revisions that we’ve identified are a direct result of those evaluations,” said Connecticut Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno said.

With the  additional $20 million, an estimated 10,000 renters overall will receive aid. That’s an additional 2,625 households who aren’t already in the queue.

A survey of landlords in late May conducted by the governor’s office concluded that, without intervention, state eviction rates were likely to jump from 4% in the typical year to 7% this year.

Twenty percent of tenants in Connecticut are behind on rent, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Sept. 9. That’s almost 100,000 renters. Women, Black and Hispanic people, and those living in the state’s largest cities are disproportionately affected by the economic downturn and the resulting housing crisis. Renters typically earn less than half that of homeowners.

A coalition of housing advocates from the group Home Connecticut estimates that between $400 million to $1 billion is needed to stem the expected eviction crisis.

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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