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Lincoln, Lancaster County net nearly $15M for rental assistance with federal eviction moratorium set to lapse
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Lincoln, Lancaster County net nearly $15M for rental assistance with federal eviction moratorium set to lapse

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Lincoln and Lancaster County together have received nearly $15 million in federal dollars meant to help stave off evictions and utility disconnections because of the pandemic, local officials said Friday.

The latest federal stimulus package sent nearly $13.5 million to Lincoln and about $1.4 million to Lancaster County, according to Lincoln Urban Development Director Dan Marvin and Lincoln-Lancaster County Human Services Director Sara Hoyle.

Ramped-up relief funding doled out to the city and county comes as federal and local officials work to prevent a surge in evictions because of nonpayment after the federal moratorium on evictions lapses March 31, Marvin said.

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To qualify for the assistance, renters must earn 80% or less of the median area income, and their need must result because of a coronavirus-related impact on their ability to make rent payments. 

Lincoln has paid out more than $2 million of the rent and utility assistance money it has received since last year, including more than $103,000 in checks last week, according to Marvin.

More than 1,100 people have contacted the city's rental assistance administrators since the program began, and 850 payments have been approved, he said.

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The funds mark the first dollars distributed to Lancaster County to aid struggling tenants who live outside of Lincoln city limits, Hoyle said.

Both Lincoln and Lancaster County are preparing to staff and roll out an online portal to help a potential influx of applicants for the new rental assistance funds. 

In the program, approved payment checks go directly to landlords, and the funds can wipe out back rent stemming from as early as March 2020, Marvin and Hoyle said.

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Tenants behind on rent should apply for the program and do their best to keep paying what they can, he has said.

"No one who is COVID-impacted should be afraid to call and get help," Marvin said.

In recent weeks, emails from landlords' and tenants' advocates alike have flooded the email inbox of the Lincoln City Council over the issue of evictions.

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Tenants' advocates have called on the city to enact its own blanket eviction moratorium, saying landlords have found a way around the federal moratorium and continued to force tenants out.

Landlords have pushed elected leaders locally to resist those calls, saying a moratorium would hamper their ability to kick out destructive tenants and that resources are already available to help work with people in dire financial straits because of the pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird urged landlords not to evict tenants who are unable to pay full rent because of the pandemic.

Neither the City Council nor the mayor has proposed an eviction moratorium.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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Local government reporter

Riley Johnson reports on local government in Lincoln.

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