Federal relief package provides $17 million for COVID-stressed renters in Kalamazoo County

Seventeen million dollars in federal assistance is being made available to residents of Kalamazoo County who have fallen behind on rent and utility payments as a result of financial hardship or job losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While our community is making progress in the fight against the virus, many households have fallen behind on rent and utilities due to lost wages and other hardships,” says Sara Jacobs, director of the Kalamazoo County Continuum of Care. “The COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program offers hope for many people to keep a roof over their heads, keep the lights on, and stay connected.”
The Kalamazoo County Continuum of Care is part of a statewide network of nonprofit organizations through which the funding is being channeled. The money is a countywide share of $25 billion set aside for rental aid in the recently passed federal COVID-19 relief package. Funds are being allocated to local nonprofit agencies through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
In Kalamazoo County, the Continuum of Care is collaborating with three local nonprofits that will distribute the funds. The effort is being led by Housing Resources Inc. It is partnering with Open Doors Kalamazoo and Integrated Services of Kalamazoo.
Qualified Kalamazoo County residents can expect to receive help with their rent and utilities, including electricity, natural gas, water, sewer, internet, and trash. Applicants may receive 10 to 12 months of rent support -- up to 150 percent of federal Fair Housing Rent, depending on household income -- according to information provided by the Continuum of Care. That includes up to three months for future rent. And those in need may also apply for an additional three months of rent support to assure stable housing.
Through the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program, one-time help with utility costs will range from $1,500 to $2,500, including $300 to $500 for future payment, depending on household size. A one-time stipend of $300 is available for internet costs.
Eligible individuals must live in Kalamazoo County and must:
• Have a household income that is less than 80 percent of the area median income for their household size;
• Qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak;
• Be able to demonstrate, with a past-due utility or rent notice, that they are at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability.
According to the Continuum of Care, 80 percent of the area median income is: $44,240 for a one-person household; $50,560 for a two-person household; $56,880 for a three-person household; $63,200 for a four-person household; $68,320 for a five-person household; $73,360 for a six-person household; $78,400 for a seven-person household; and $83,440 for an eight-person household.
An eligible applicant must also:
• Be living in a rental unit;
• Be able to document past-due rent and utilities after March 13, 2020;
• Have experienced an eligible COVID-19 hardship since March 13, 2020;
• And have a lease agreement in the tenant’s name if a written lease was completed (verbal leases may qualify but will need additional documentation). Renters, as well as landlords, may apply.
To help Emergency Rental Assistance program participants stay housed for the long-term, Goodwill Industries of Southwest Michigan is providing social support services through Community Connect, a program that helps address a wide array of possible needs, including education, food, mobility, disability, health care access, life skills, parenting skills, legal services, and housing.
“Housing Resources Inc. believes that the only solution to homelessness is housing,” says Michelle Davis, executive director of that nonprofit organization. “Right now, preventing people from losing their homes is an important solution to ensure that more people don't find themselves homeless.”
She says the partnership between Housing Resources, Open Doors Kalamazoo, and Integrated Services of Kalamazoo represents the deep collaborations “that have become the norm during the pandemic.” That has resulted in people staying housed, she says.
“The shared goal of our CERA (COVID Emergency Rental Assistance) partnership is to help individuals and families get through the current crisis while equipping them with the skills and support they need for long-term success,” Jacobs says.
Those interested in applying for assistance may start the process by calling 269-382-0287. An online application is expected to be available soon on the HRI website here.
Information about how to qualify for the program and necessary documentation is available online from MSHDA here.


Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.