As rental assistance funds dwindle, programs pause applications

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Wednesday, January 12, 2022
As rental assistance funds dwindle, programs pause applications
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The Cumberland County and City of Fayetteville's Rental Assistance Program (RAP) will not accept new applications for rental or utility assistance.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Cumberland County and City of Fayetteville's Rental Assistance Program (RAP) will not accept new applications for rental or utility assistance.

Officials said the move is temporary and is necessary as the program awaits additional funds. A spokesperson for the county said it is anticipating $17 million from the state.

"The need for assistance has clearly been demonstrated by the response to this program," a county spokesperson wrote to ABC11.

While the county is not accepting new applications, workers are continuing to review, process, and complete payments for existing applications.

The City of Fayetteville and Cumberland County received $13.6 million in federal funding for the rental assistance program. The county said all of those funds have been spent to assist 2,500 homes with rent and/ or utility bills.

While the federal funds are diminishing, there is still a significant need.

"I think we're going to get more and more phone calls with people who are distraught and really don't know what to do," said Amy Navejas, the CEO of United Way of Cumberland County. "That's so challenging because you want to be able to have answers for them, but the reality is right now we have very limited resources in our community."

United Way has worked to raise funds and connect residents to rental resources before and during the pandemic. The organization operates a resource hotline, 211, that connects residents to available resources. Navejas said the hotline is still receiving double the amount of calls it usually does and a majority are related to rental needs.

"By the time they get to our agency, typically they tried several different places, they're frustrated, and they don't really know what to do and there's a real element of fear there," she said. "If you don't know where you're going to sleep tonight, you don't know where your family's gonna be, that's a huge concern. We've had a lot of really distraught individuals call us."

Around 7,600 applications have been completed for the Cumberland County Rental Assistance Program. Of those, 33% have awarded funding, according to the program's website.

The program has received criticism in the past. Back in October, multiple Fayetteville organizations filed a federal complaint.

"You've got families with children that are out on the street, living in hotels because they were completely eligible for the program, but because the funding didn't happen in time, they were evicted," said Stella Adams, the founder of S J Adams Consulting, a civil rights research and consulting firm. Adams called the program overly complicated and cumbersome.

The ABC11 I-Team previously found only 22% of the program's applicants had received funding as of October. Since ABC11's last report, around 1,500 additional applications have been filed.

Around three months later, the program is reporting slightly higher rates with about a third of the applications receiving funding.

Wake County's COVID-19 rental assistance program is also planning on closing its application period by next Friday. The county said its federal money is also running out and they want to make sure people who have already applied get their payments covered. Wake County's program had a total of $101 million.

While Wake County and Raleigh officials applied for more funds, they were notified this week that they would not be getting any more money.

There are still resources available for those in need in Wake County, including:

Navejas also recommends renters call 211 regardless of where they live to be connected with potential assistance options in their area. She said renters should plan ahead and find out their resources before they face eviction.

"I'm optimistic that we are going to be able to come through this and get people back in their homes stabilize with their jobs and hopefully some affordable housing options for them as well. So I'd say that I'm cautiously optimistic," she said.