A state rent relief program is finally getting started with help from Aloha United Way and Catholic Charities of Hawaii.

The two organizations will administer $50 million worth of rental assistance that comes from the state’s share of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act signed by President Donald Trump in March.

The program is expected to assist between 8,000 and 11,000 households with rent payments, according to Denise Iseri-Matsubara, director of the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation.

Denise Iseri-Matsubara, executive director of the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation, announced a new rent relief program for Hawaii residents. Screenshot/State of Hawaii

Under the program, funds for rental relief can go up to $2,000 per month for households on Oahu and $1,500 a month for households on the neighbor islands.

To be eligible, applicants need to make less than area median income which for a family of four on Oahu means $125,900 in annual household income.

The state has a full list of eligibility requirements and instructions on how to apply for the program on its website.

Payments will be made directly to landlords and not to tenants “to make sure payment is actually made,” Iseri-Matsubara said. However, tenants, not landlords, must fill out the application for rental assistance.

The application could take a couple weeks to process with an additional week for payments to be made, she said. The payments can be dispersed in lump sums that could cover up to three months of rent.

Eligibility for rental assistance

Aloha United Way President John Fink said the organization is partnering with local credit unions to process those applications. Catholic Charities Hawaii President Rob Van Tasell said they will work with labor unions and rental advocates to spread word of the rental assistance program.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, which houses HHFDC, contracted Anthology Marketing Group to promote the rent relief program. The contract is worth $91,000.

Ige put a moratorium on evictions that began in April, but some tenants and their lawyers are still reporting instances of tenants being wrongly evicted.

The Legislature set aside $100 million of CARES Act funds for rental assistance in the state budget in July, but Gov. David Ige signed off on just half of that amount in this first round of funding.

The other $50 million will go to a separate program that could cover back payments on rent and mortgages that have accumulated since March 1, according to the governor. In July, Ige withheld half the rental assistance funds because the budget specified that the money could only be used for rent starting Aug 1.

“The Hawai‘i Housing Finance and Development Corporation (HHFDC) believes, and I agree, that an initial working capital of $50 (million) is sufficient to start a program from now until the end of the year,” Ige wrote in a July statement to lawmakers on his rationale for withholding funds.

But the remaining $50 million worth of rental funds are tied up with about another $270 million until Sept. 15 because the governor line-item vetoed those funds. Sept. 15 is the deadline for bills that cleared the Legislature in July to go into law or be vetoed by Ige.

This table shows the 2020 area median income rates for one- to 10-person households in each county. Screenshot/State of Hawaii

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