Renters and landlords across Nebraska have been slow to claim pandemic-related rental assistance, a state housing official said Monday.
Shannon Harner, executive director for the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, said her agency has $158 million available to help pay rent and utilities for people affected by the pandemic who live outside of the Omaha and Lincoln areas. The money comes from federal coronavirus relief dollars.
So far, the agency has only gotten requests for about $2.4 million worth of assistance. Of that, payment has been approved for some $400,000 worth of rental help and $16,000 worth of help on utilities.
Harner said she doesn't know why the requests have come in slowly. The money can be used to pay back rent, as well as future rent, and for utility bills that are the responsibility of tenants, such as electricity, gas, water, sewer and garbage service.
"We know the need is there. We just need to get the word out," she said.
Harner speculated that one issue may be that the most-affected people live in Douglas County, Omaha, Lancaster County or Lincoln and are not eligible for the state funds.
Those local governments are sharing $42 million worth of pandemic rental assistance money, which will be distributed through their own separate programs. Lincoln and Lancaster County launched their programs recently, while Omaha and Douglas County are expected to launch theirs soon.
Landowners and tenants in Lincoln and Lancaster County can visit lincoln.ne.gov/rent to learn about eligibility and fill out an application for aid. Those without internet access or who need help filling out an application can call 402-413-2085.
The amount going to each state was determined by the federal government, with every state getting at least $200 million. Harner said that, if the metro area programs run out of money, the state program will help out.
Another factor may be difficulties in getting through the application process. She said nearly 4,400 people have registered on the website and started the application but not finished it, whether because they didn't have the needed documents or realized that they didn't qualify for the aid.
In addition, she noted the process requires that both the tenant and the landlord complete applications. As of Friday, there were 238 people waiting for the other party to submit the matching application.
Either renters or landlords can start the application process. If approved, the money will be paid directly to the landlord or utility company on the renter’s behalf.
Applications can be found at coronavirus.nebraska.gov.