The Emergency Rent Assistance Program (ERAP), which was launched in late April, has since provided more than $ 15.6 million to 6,159 households in Wyoming, out of the $ 180 million approved for the program.
The ERAP was intended to help tenants who are struggling to pay their rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is using federal funds to pay for the program.
According to the Wyoming Department of Family Services (DFS), 9,878 requests were submitted as of Jan. 6, which means 62% of the requests submitted were accepted, while 1,708 requests were rejected or withdrawn.
Kristie Arneson, senior legal and policy analyst for DFS, said that although the program got off to a slow start, they have since managed to increase the speed at which they approve requests.
Tenants in Natrona County received the most of any county in the state at $ 3,309,213, with 1,284 claims paid, out of 1,713 claims submitted, according to the DFS website.
Samantha Daniels, ERAP lawyer for Wyoming Legal Aid, along with two other attorneys, have been hired to help people sign up for ERAP as well as other issues that people face when it comes to legal aid. lodging.
Daniels said the program is useful because paying your rent allows people who are behind on other bills to catch up.
“Everyone is affected,” Daniels said. “And in what way, is it credit cards, is it a delay on utilities. I think a lot of people are going to say credit cards and say things like that, credit cards and payday loans. It’s a way to catch up on all of that. Your rent is paid, so now you can afford to pay your credit card. “
Recently, the program has also started offering Letters of Intent, which allow homeless people to obtain a letter from DFS stating that they have paid rent for three months, which can then be returned to landlords instead and place of rent.
However, Daniels said the new initiative has also run into another problem, which is that there is not enough housing available.
“I would say we are definitely in an unprecedented housing situation here,” Daniels said. “Most of my clients cannot find their rental. I think I heard that in Casper there was a little shortage, but in Cheyanne there are hardly any apartments available … Many of my clients have a hard time finding a place in general … much less if they have an eviction on their record, so what. “
One of the issues that has arisen with homeowners is that the ERAP will cap late fees at 10%, but sometimes homeowners will have charged more than that amount.
Daniels said there are situations where tenants owe more than 10% late fees, but because of how the ERAP works, landlords only get 10%.
“Some owners charge a late fee of $ 10 a day, I’ve seen this a few times,” Daniels said. a lot, and it adds up quickly, especially when you’re already behind on rent. It usually starts with $ 50 for the first time, then $ 10 a day. This is usually outrageous … Someone can put in his claim that he owes $ 500 late fees for the month of December. But if the rent is $ 1,000, they get $ 100. “
Most of the funding for the ERAP went to homeowners, $ 12.2 million of the $ 15.6 million distributed, which Daniels says shows homeowners more often than not agree to the terms of the ERAP.
If they don’t, the ERAP money goes directly to the tenants.
While ERAP is funded until at least 2025, Daniels said she believes Wyoming Legal Aid funding will expire at the end of 2022.
The DFS is also to attempt to administer a Homeowner Assistance Fund, which uses $ 50 million in federal funding to provide similar assistance to homeowners affected by COVID-19, but since the announcement of a pilot program in August, there has been no had no update on program launch.
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