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New rental relief program opens preregistration for Alaskans struggling during COVID-19

There’s no timeline when the money will be paid, but it’s said help will go out as quickly as possible
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File: Key in Keyhole(Source: Pixabay)
Published: Feb. 1, 2021 at 3:21 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaskans who are struggling to pay their rent and utility bills can preregister for a new program that will provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then-President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion federal COVID-19 relief bill on Dec. 27, 2020. Included in that package was $25 billion in relief for renters.

Alaska received $200 million from that package with $35 million going directly to the Municipality of Anchorage. The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. received roughly $164 million.

“That’s funds for statewide, including Anchorage,” said Bryan Butcher, the CEO of AHFC. “Just because Anchorage got its own amount, it doesn’t mean that it won’t include Anchorage residents as well.”

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. has an eligibility questionnaire and a preregistration form available online. The corporation’s website contains more information for who is eligible for the relief.

Generally, an applicant needs to be a renter who has struggled financially during the pandemic and has earned 80% or less of their community’s median income. People in arrears can get help as can Alaskans still struggling to make rent and utility payments.

The money will be paid directly to landlords, property managers and utilities.

Butcher said all Alaskans who feel they might qualify should apply. He hopes applications will start being processed in mid-February, but he doesn’t know when the checks will go out.

“It’s a little premature for us to put a date on when we can get the funding out, but we’ll be doing it certainly as quickly as we can,” Butcher said.

Under the federal legislative formula, cities with populations over 200,000 people got their own allocation for rental relief. The Municipality of Anchorage received just over $35 million which the Anchorage Assembly unanimously approved to be disbursed on Thursday.

Clark Halvorson, the president and CEO of the United Way of Anchorage, said his organization has been partnering with the municipality to give housing relief during the pandemic. Around $30 million will have been disbursed among Anchorage renters and homeowners by March.

Halvorson said the United Way of Anchorage is having 92 appointments per day with struggling homeowners and renters. The nonprofit is able to disburse roughly $300,000 in relief per day.

Jason Bockenstedt, Anchorage acting mayor’s chief of staff, said the municipality and the AHFC would be working closely together to get the relief out. The idea would be to have one online portal for all applications across Alaska.

Bockenstedt also didn’t know when the municipality’s checks would go out. “We’re going to have more information in the next week or so,” he added. “We know that there’s a big need out there”

In 2020, the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. received $10 million in federal coronavirus funds to help homeowners and renters. The money was disbursed as a lottery with a maximum payment of $1,200.

Butcher said thousands, and potentially tens of thousands, of people needed help. “We had the funding to provide two months [of help] to people. Most people needed far more help than that,” he added.

More than six months later and many Alaskans face more pronounced financial challenges.

The Alaska unemployment rate remains stubbornly high. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports that 24,100 fewer Alaskans had jobs in December 2020 compared to December 2019.

If the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, the concern is that more Alaskans will be at risk of losing their homes. “Once someone goes into homelessness, it’s very difficult and very expensive to get them back out of homelessness,” Butcher said.

President Joe Biden extended the eviction moratorium until the end of March. That prevents renters from losing their homes, but this new round of relief should help renters and landlords pay their bills.

“Fortunately, $200 million is a good amount of money for a population the size of Alaska’s,” Butcher said. “We feel confident that people who feel need and qualify, we are going to be able to help.”

The $200 million is only for renters; homeowners are ineligible. Bockenstedt said he hoped there would be new guidance from the federal government that would allow homeowners to receive help through this package.

Halvorson said between 15% and 20% of people who have received housing relief from the United Way of Anchorage during the pandemic have been homeowners. Butcher said the $10 million in 2020 housing relief was split almost evenly between homeowners and renters.

He also hoped homeowners could receive help through a new federal COVID-19 relief package currently before Congress. “Because there are thousands of Alaskans who have lost their jobs who have homes that are at risk of going into foreclosure, and becoming homeless that way,” he said.

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