Originally published: May 30, 2022
Yes, rental and utility assistance is available across Nebraska
OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — MACCH and others want to get the word out: funds are available for rent and utilities.
“You’ll see our billboards up, our bus wraps,” said Lisa Vukov, director of the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless. “We have some outreach that is going to be coming directly to landlords and property owners.”
When applications through MACCH were unavailable earlier this year, Vukov said they worked to revamp the application process. She said they were flooded with applications when they relaunched on April 1.
“We hope that the process is easier for folks this time around,” she said.
To qualify, renters must be at or below 80% of the median income for their family size. Also, at least one person in the home must be able to:
- Explain how the pandemic has negatively impacted them financially, directly or indirectly.
- Show a risk of homelessness or housing instability.
Vukov said “the vast majority of folks in the United States have experience some sort of economic hardship due to the pandemic.” They dig into the individual’s situation, but someone who was laid off from a company struggling today might qualify.
“There is nothing that is going to flip a switch and, this is all over,” Vukov said. “We took a population that was already living paycheck to paycheck … that takes a long time to recover.”
The max amount available is 12 months back pay and three months future rent and utilities. MACCH began accepting repeat applications when it relaunched in April.
United Way’s 211 hotline is a catch-all for people in need of assistance. Calls to 211 doubled from 2019 to 2021.
Links to programs for renters:
- For Omaha renters: MACCH
- For Douglas County renters outside Omaha: COPE
- For Lancaster County renters
- For the rest of Nebraska
There is a fund available explicitly for homeowners, too. The Nebraska Homeowner Assistance Fund opened in February, through the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority. They spent roughly $1 million of $50 million available through 2026, said Shannon Harner, executive director of NIFA.
The fund can cover mortgages, property taxes and other property-related expenses, such as HOA fees. It does not cover utilities, but it refers people to others that do.
Like the rental programs, NHAF is for those who have seen a negative impact from the pandemic. Someone who lost their job due to the state of the economy today “generally would” qualify if they meet all other criteria, said Harner.
Money in the bank
The existing rental assistance funds expire on Sept. 30, but it appears Douglas and Lancaster Counties will be able to fund the programs beyond that date.
Vukov said MCACH reopened in April with $61 million, mostly from funds repurposed from the State of Nebraska’s program. Of that, they’ve spent a fourth to a fifth so far, she said, and hopes it will last through the Sept. 30 expiration.
The Christian Outreach Program Elkhorn, for Douglas County renters outside Omaha, has $2 million available that it expects will last through Sept. 30, said Jane Gordan of COPE. Nebraska’s program has $25 million available, according to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ spokesperson, who doesn’t expect the funds to run out before Sept. 30.
Inflation, housing and food
Matt Wallen of United Way of the Midlands says the community has a high level of need and is being impacted by a “new phenomenon” called “inflation inequality.”
He said because inflation has hit essentials, including housing and food, especially hard, those in poverty see higher inflation than those with higher incomes.
Utilities are up 12% over the last year, he said.
“It’s much more difficult to be able to provide for your…households because of that inflation,” Wallen said. “Incomes don’t increase at the same rate as that inflation.”
Despite the financial conditions, philanthropy has stayed strong in the community, he said.
Busy at eviction court
There’s a steady upward trend of eviction filings, said Legal Aid of Nebraska Attorney Scott Mertz.
Evictions can be ordered on the same day, but the vast majority are prevented. MACCH has a specialist at eviction court each day. They work with volunteer lawyers and Legal Aid to prevent evictions.
“Unfortunately, we see some landlords not willing to work with the rental assistance programs,” Mertz said.
Funds can be given directly to the tenant if the landlord does not accept funds. That way takes longer, though, Mertz said. When landlords don’t cooperate, court gets busier, he said.
Ricketts declined to apply for rental assistance available beyond Sept. 30 and vetoed a bill that would have required him to do so. But it appears Douglas and Lancaster Counties will still receive funds from the federal government.
For MACCH, the possible end to funding terrifies Vukov. However, the U.S. Treasury has assured her that jurisdictions within Nebraska, including Douglas County, will get first dibs on funds that would have been given to Nebraska, she said.