New pandemic rental assistance programs see huge demand

Two rental assistance programs launched to help state and local residents during the pandemic are already nearing their capacity, just three days after applications opened.

Indiana’s $25 million rental assistance program—anticipated to help roughly 12,000 Hoosier households, had already received 11,000 applications as of Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a $15 million rental assistance program for only Marion County residents had received 10,118 applications as of Wednesday, forcing the city to suspend the application while it processes those already submitted. The $15 million, which came from the city’s chunk of federal coronavirus relief funds, is anticipated to help between 7,000 and 11,000 households.

Both applications opened Monday.

The city’s program now has a wait list. Residents who need assistance can submit their email address to be notified when applications reopen. The state’s application portal remains open.

Housing advocates had warned the funding set aside for programs wasn’t going to be enough to help everyone who needed assistance. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has estimated that 258,000 Hoosier families will need help paying their rent this summer following pandemic-related stay-at-home orders that led to an economic collapse.

Andrew Bradley, policy director at Prosperity Indiana, said he’s not surprised by the numbers, saying they reflect expected demand based on that 258,000 number.

What’s worrisome, he said, is that those who have already applied were informed enough to find out about the program. There are probably many more who haven’t applied because of lack of awareness.

“Really, this is scratching the surface of the households that need the assistance,” he said.

City officials had already said the $15 million likely wasn’t going to be enough to meet demand. Some $90 million of the city’s federal funding has yet to be appropriated and could be used to provide further assistance if city leaders deem it necessary.

“We are proud that Indianapolis is offering one of the most generous municipal-based rental assistance programs in the country,” Mayor Joe Hogsett said in a written statement. “And we are thankful to the many community organizations that helped connect residents to the program, increasing the flow of assistance to those who need it most. As more residents seek to take advantage of this opportunity, we will be assessing how we can further maximize this funding.”

Bradley said the demand for help should prove that the eviction moratorium currently in place should be extended beyond July 31 by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Prosperity Indiana and a group of housing stability advocates have been calling on the state to launch a coordinated effort for helping Hoosiers behind on rent. There are funding sources, including Community Development Block Grants, that could be activated by cities outside of Indianapolis to make the state’s funding go further.

The group also is concerned about making sure the available funds reach hardest-hit Hoosiers, including black and Latino populations and residents living in cities with high housing costs.

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