091121_CTN_Assistance

The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners approved an addendum to its memorandum of understanding with MUST Ministries, related to the emergency rental assistance program administered by MUST.

Renters in Cherokee County needing some help paying their rent will soon have an easier time applying for assistance.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was set up through federal legislation as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and helps those affected by it who are having a difficult time paying rent avoid being evicted. In Cherokee County, the county government partners with MUST Ministries, which administers the program. At its meeting Tuesday, the county Board of Commissioners approved an addendum to its agreement with MUST Ministries to allow tenants to self-certify their hardship due to the pandemic.

MUST Ministries’ Vice President of Housing, Falecia Stewart, said approving this change would make it easier for those applying for assistance to receive help with their rent and utilities.

“With these funds you have to substantiate the financial loss that has occurred as a result of the

pandemic,” Stewart said. “We’ve had a number of individuals who have not had the capacity to provide their COVID hardship.”

She also said federal officials are encouraging local governments to make the process easier. So far, Stewart said that around $1.02 million of the $4.5 million in federal funding had been paid out to eligible Cherokee County residents, with applicants receiving an average of about $8,356 through the program. The change will also allow more people to get rental assistance, according to Stewart.

Since the program began, Stewart said there have been 567 applications for assistance received by MUST Ministries, Of these, 259 had been completed and another 51 were being processed, while 122 were incomplete and 135 were denied. One of the main reasons for applications being denied, Stewart said, is due to applicants being unable to provide all of the proper documentation. Among the information required in the application is a photo ID of the applicant, proof of income, proof of hardship caused by the pandemic and a current or past due rent or utility bill statement. In some instances, the applicants submitted incomplete documentation, while there have also been times where the landlord failed or refused to provide the documents needed for the application.

“I think MUST is working hard. They have brought in staff to help administer this program to push this rental assistance out to the people, keep people in their homes and get landlords paid,” Commission Chairman Harry Johnston said. “Yet, the progress is slow partly because it’s hard to prove your financial hardship was due to COVID. The Treasury has given us the green light to let people self-attest to that, and it looks like it could allow a large portion of the one-third of the applicants who are being denied to be approved and allow them to avoid becoming homeless.”

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