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NJ has distributed more than $300M of $1B in available rental assistance

NJ has distributed more than $300M of $1B in available rental assistance

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In the pandemic, New Jersey has been tasked with amplifying various assistance programs to help those who have been financially impacted by COVID-19. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Division of Housing and Community Resources has been serving tens of thousands of families in need of rental assistance through the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, also known as CVERAP.

This proactive program is helping to prevent a wave of evictions now and in the coming months. We are proud of the fact that New Jersey now ranks number one among states in the nation in terms of percentage of federal emergency rental assistance funds disbursed. In August alone, we obligated and distributed over $144 million through the program. And as of this week, a total of more than $300 million has been provided to over 33,000 households.

In a recent report issued by the U.S. Treasury, New Jersey was commended for adopting Treasury’s flexibilities on self-attestation of income and need, while also standing up a strong eviction diversion program infrastructure, including incorporating our rental assistance program into our eviction court system. We were also commended for engaging “in efforts to provide accessible support options to eligible households such as door-to-door efforts in low-income areas and the integration of ERA promotion into vaccine outreach efforts.”

The metrics and milestones are proof that the program is working, but more importantly, our department is talking to hundreds of real people every day to help ensure they are safe, secure and stably housed. People like Yolandita Rivera, who without the Emergency Rental Assistance Program may not have a roof over their head.

Rivera said to us, “I received an email from your office so that I could apply (for rental assistance). I went in immediately and applied. My landlord had also informed me that he saw something on our mayor’s social media about it and that he applied also on my behalf. I really appreciate it and am humbled that he would do that for me. These are definitely humbling times and times of thanksgiving to everyone that is trying to help us through these difficult times.”

These are indeed difficult times, and the fallout of this pandemic is widespread in that tens of thousands of people who are applying for rental and utility assistance have never before had to ask for financial help from the government. We understand this can be humbling, but no one should be ashamed.

We know there are many more people who are struggling. Which is why we are trying to dispel the false narrative that getting $1 billion dollars in rental assistance out to people is unachievable. The state is working toward this goal and we won’t stop until every dollar makes its way to those in need.

There are a couple different ways people can apply. If they have access to a computer, it’s easiest for them to apply online by visiting: njdca.onlinepha.com. If they do not have access to a computer, they can call 609-490-4550.

In addition to the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, the state has put several measures in place to help protect people who were financially impacted by the pandemic from being evicted.

If you live in a New Jersey household with income below 120% of your county’s area median income, you are permanently protected from eviction or removal at any time for nonpayment of rent, habitual late payment of rent, or failure to accept a rent increase that accrued from March 1, 2020, to August 31, 2021, if you self-certify using the state’s Self-Certification Form. To get protected from eviction, people should complete the state’s Eviction Protection Self-Certification Form, which can be accessed online: covid19.nj.gov/forms/renterform.

And finally, many people who are struggling to pay rent may also be struggling to pay their utilities. There are approximately 350,000 people in New Jersey who are currently behind on paying their utility bills. As part of the American Rescue Plan relief funds that were allocated by Gov. Murphy in August, $250 million was set aside for assisting people with paying utility arrearages. Households in arrears will receive a letter from DCA in October detailing how to apply for assistance. For those households that are current on their utility bills, but are still in need of assistance, the LIHEAP and New Jersey Universal Service Fund program application period opened on Oct. 1. New Jersey residents can apply online by visiting https://njdca-housing.dynamics365portals.us/en-US/dcaid-services/. To find out if they’re eligible for this assistance, people can use the completely anonymous online screening tool called DCAid by visiting nj.gov/dca/dcaid.

Our job at the state has always been to serve people. While this pandemic has stretched our resources and forced us to build our capacity, it has also deepened our commitment to ensuring that every New Jerseyan, regardless of their ZIP code or socio-economic status, has a safe, decent and affordable place to call home.

Janel Winter, of Hightstown in Mercer County, is director of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Division of Housing and Community Resources and oversees the state’s housing response to the pandemic.

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