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State Housing Authority to pause emergency rental assistance program applications

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Sophia Schmidt
/
, Delaware Public Media

The Delaware State Housing Authority temporarily stops taking new applications for its emergency rental assistance program starting September 9.

The program, known as the Delaware Housing Assistance Program (DHAP), relies on federal Emergency Rental Assistance program dollars. Delaware received that funding in two sections, the first expires September 30th. DSHA then transitions to the next round of funding, which is expected to last until 2025.

During the transition, DSHA is taking time to adjust to new US Treasury policies and increased demand for rental assistance.

Those changes include increasing the documentation necessary to prove an applicant’s income. Currently, applicants self-attest their incomes; after the rule change, they need to provide tax returns, pay stubs or other proof of income.

DSHA spokesperson Laurie Jacobs adds that the adjustments also include lowering the income limit for applicants. DHAP currently accepts applicants who earn less than 80 percent of area median income; that percentage will be reduced to reserve program funds for the lowest-income renters. For example, she said, the program is open to a family of four that makes roughly $80,000 per year, but that limit could fall to below $50,000.

“Part of these changes is to make the program true to its name as an emergency rental assistance program to really help those in emergencies," she said. "Those facing eviction, homelessness and utilities cutoffs.”

Given than 85 percent of DHAP participants report earning less than half of area median income, the reduction in the income cap for applicants may only have a limited impact, though Jacobs notes that the self-reported income data is difficult to verify.

DHAP pays three months of rent in advance and allows households to recertify to continue receiving support. DSHA is also pausing recertifications September 9, so some households may need to wait until October to apply for recertification. In the interim, they will be responsible for covering rent payments. Housing Alliance Delaware Director Rachael Stucker noted that for some of those households, the pause could present a serious hurdle.

"We know there are going to be people who don't get the help when they need it," she said. "We're hoping that some of those people have enough resources to maintain housing until the pause ends."

As of August 28, DSHA had 5,000 applications for the program under review, along with more than 1,000 new applications. The agency will continue processing those applications, but it will not resume taking new applications until later in the fall. So far, the program has distributed more than $100 million in rental assistance to more than 15,000 Delawareans recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.

Stucker says the program has been a vital part of mitigating the damage of the pandemic for Delaware renters.

"The big takeaway about the program, regardless of what's happening, is that it's been a really critical Band-aid," she said. "But it's not going to solve the housing problem, and it's temporary. We need to keep thinking about how to make housing affordable in our state on a permanent basis."

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.