Gisandra Bermudez, left, stands beside a fence waiting for her turn to enter the UniteCT bus in Waterbury. Bermudez said she stayed unemployed during the pandemic partially because she didn't want to increase a chance to expose her three young sons to COVID-19 by going to work.
Gisandra Bermudez, left, waits for her turn to enter the UniteCT bus in Waterbury. Bermudez said she stayed unemployed during the pandemic partially because she didn't want to increase a chance to expose her three young sons to COVID-19 by going to work. Yehyun Kim /

Connecticut officials are expanding efforts to help residents impacted by rising rents by using federal COVID dollars to aid programs that allow people in state-sponsored job training to get rental assistance and help people being evicted with moving costs.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced last week that the state is designating $30 million of COVID relief money to offer up to $15,000 per household in rent to residents who are part of CareerConneCT. The program offers job training in conjunction with other services that make it easier for people to participate in training.

In the past couple of months, the state also started the Moving Assistance Program, which can cover security deposits for people forced to move following an eviction. It funnels money out of the existing $12.5 million UniteCT Eviction Prevention fund, and exists for tenants whose landlords won’t participate in the eviction prevention program.

[RELATED: What is the UniteCT Eviction Prevention Fund, and can it help me stay in my home?]

It’s an extension of the Department of Housing’s pandemic-era aid program UniteCT.

“We always wanted there to be a Plan B … for when their landlords didn’t want to work with them,” said Marina Marmolejo, program manager of the UniteCT programs.

UniteCT offered rent assistance to thousands of Connecticut residents who fell behind on rent because of financial strains during the pandemic.

The Eviction Prevention fund offers up to 12 months in rent or $15,000 to prevent final eviction rulings in court for renters who did not get any money through an earlier iteration of UniteCT.

Tenants who have been served an eviction and undergone court mediation can access the money with a referral from legal aid or a court mediator. Tenants can call 1-844-864-8328 to get help on their application.

The three programs were created using Emergency Rental Assistance Program dollars, which was funded by Congress through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury distributed billions of dollars to states and local governments. The money was part of the federal government’s efforts to prevent evictions as many fell behind on bills because of economic stressors of the pandemic. The government also had a ban on most evictions caused by missing rent for months during the earlier parts of the pandemic.

Many states were slow to distribute the first tranches of money. After a slow start in March 2021, Connecticut picked up the pace and stopped taking new applications for the original UniteCT program in February 2022 because they’d spent the nearly $400 million set aside for the program to help renters and landlords.

The Eviction Prevention Fund fully launched in January with $11 million in federal funds that were reallocated from another state. The federal government diverted money from states such as Alabama that were too slow to spend the dollars or states such as Wyoming that have few tenants. The $11 million was paired with $1.5 million the state legislature put in the budget during the 2022 legislative session to create a rent bank program.

So far, Connecticut has distributed about $6.2 million, and the wait time for money to come through is about a month, Marmolejo said. Officials expect the funds to last until September 2025.

All participants are guaranteed a two-month security deposit. If they haven’t received the maximum amount allowed in rent aid or if the landlord only asks for a one-month deposit, they can get a month of rent paid.

The program is only accessible to people who have gone through a court mediation and found their landlord doesn’t want to work with them to get the eviction prevention money. Often, when landlords and tenants have reached a court date on an eviction case, their relationship has deteriorated, and the landlord wants them to leave.

In a tight rental market, many residents have struggled to find new apartments, so the Department of Housing decided to switch from giving program participants a couple of months to find a new place to creating a first-come, first-serve system for the moving assistance program, said Leigh Shields-Church, coordinated access manager at the Department of Housing.

“We know how difficult it is for people,” Shields-Church said.

The $30 million for rent aid with CareerConneCT is from the Emergency Rental Assistance II fund — another round of funds from the federal government.

Asked why the funds were used for CareerConneCT rather than the existing eviction prevention fund, DOH spokesperson Meghan Bard said the eviction prevention program is “fully funded.”

“We anticipate that the funding committed will be sufficient to meet the goals of the program,” Bard said in an emailed statement.

The rent aid is designed to supplement other supports that CareerConneCT recipients get including transportation, child care and housing. Participants are eligible if their household earns up to 80% of the area median income, according to a press release from Lamont’s office.

The program can cover three to nine months of assistance, up to $15,000.

CareerConneCT trains people in skills so they can join job sectors such as manufacturing, information technology and health care, among other fields. The program works with Connecticut employers who are looking to hire.

“Housing and workforce are a natural pairing, and making rental assistance stipends available as part of this job training program will remove some of the barriers that prevent people from fully participating in the workforce,” Lamont said in a statement.

The two programs are likely to have some overlap in participants — people who are struggling may also participate in the state’s workforce training, officials said.

“I think paying someone’s rent while they’re in workforce training so that they don’t have to drive for Uber or work a third job in order to pay their rent can help push them away from that brink of eviction,” Marmolejo said.

Jobseekers can register for CareerConneCT online. They’ll be matched with a case manager who can apply for the rental assistance program.

Ginny is CT Mirror's children's issues and housing reporter and a Report for America corps member. She covers a variety of topics ranging from child welfare to affordable housing and zoning. Ginny grew up in Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas' Lemke School of Journalism in 2017. She began her career at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette where she covered housing, homelessness, and juvenile justice on the investigations team. Along the way Ginny was awarded a 2019 Data Fellowship through the Annenberg Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California. She moved to Connecticut in 2021.