Over 3.6 million renters nationwide are hanging in the balance — one utility bill or rental payment away from falling off the edge into homelessness.
The health and economic impacts of COVID-19 have put millions out of work, without child or elder care, and without a workable plan to move out of poverty. More Americans than ever before are near total crisis. In Saratoga County, our friends and neighbors on this precarious edge now have a program and support services to turn to. The New York State Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), administered by Shelters of Saratoga, aims to distribute $6.8 million in rescue funding through 2022.
The program is off to a slow start and under the gun to deliver. Part of a nation-wide ERAP program, just $3 billion of $47 billion slated by Congress to pay for back rent accrued during the pandemic, has been distributed. States are working hard to qualify individuals and families and flow these funds quickly before the newly enacted 60-day eviction moratorium expires at the beginning of October.
Five dedicated team members have come on board at Shelters of Saratoga to help Saratoga County individuals and families with their applications. The team travels to homes, meets in the SOS offices, sets up mobile application sites — doing whatever they can to ensure the process itself is not a barrier to keeping folks in their homes.
“As professionals in this space, we know it is way easier to intervene upstream, keeping someone in their home, rather than trying to help after they become homeless. We do not, as a state, have the public health infrastructure in place to handle this kind of wave in homelessness,” said Josnelly Cerda, ERAP team, Shelters of Saratoga. “Everyone should care about this program and be invested in its success. It sustains housing for our neighbors and supports economic stability for the community.”
So far, SOS has assisted over 200 applicants. Between 800-900 applications have been submitted from the county. Applicants range from people who need as little as one utility payment to stay in their home to folks who are behind more than a year in rent. Applicant households must be at or below 80% of area median income and have experienced a COVID event that caused an increase in expenses or a loss of income. The most important qualifier for the program is that the family or individual are at risk of homelessness.
“It is critically important to all of us at Shelters of Saratoga that we provide the necessary assistance to landlords and tenants while navigating the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. With the partnership between our agency and the Saratoga County Department of Social Services and the NYS OTDA, We hope that our Saratoga County neighbors visit our Website or call our ERAP number to get the information and support they need.”
For more information and assistance enrolling in the ERAP program, you can visit www.sheltersofsaratoga.org/rent-housing or call 844-NY1RENT (844-691-7368).
Brooke McConnell is one of the founding members of the Saratoga County Alliance to End Homelessness and a Shelters of Saratoga and Saratoga Institute Board member. Professionally, she works on national issues related to social determinants of health as a Senior Marketing Manager at Unite Us.