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Maui, other counties to see more rental aid

Experts also expect Hawaii to extend eviction moratorium

Dan O’Meara

Tenants, landlords and even property owners will see rental assistance coming down the federal pipeline to each county in the state.

The key is preparing eligible people in advance, according to Dan O’Meara, Legal Aid Society’s Consumer & Housing Managing attorney who helps tenants and their landlords survive the financial fallout of COVID-19.

Oahu’s rental assistance became available Monday and the county capped out at 8,000 applicants by 4 p.m. the same day, according to O’Meara. Hawaii island is slated to begin Monday. Maui and Kauai counties have yet to set dates for applications.

The Honolulu-based attorney presented information on rental assistance and discrimination, along with the anticipated extension of Hawaii’s eviction moratorium, during an online seminar Thursday. The talk was part of the 2021 Statewide Fair Housing Conference, “More Than Just Words,” which offers free fair housing training for private landlords, Realtors, resident managers, property managers, Association of Apartment Owners board members and the general public.

Overall, the state is expected to receive $350 million in federal funds through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. O’Meara said $70 million was handed out in rental assistance last fall. The new federal money — at least five times the initial infusion — is expected to last through the end of the year.

More rental assistance is on the way for tenants, landlords and property owners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, housing experts said during a statewide fair housing seminar on Thursday. The key is getting paperwork and other preparations in line to apply for the aid. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Federal guidelines for eligibility require that applicants be making at or below 80 percent area median income and that at least one household member be unemployed for the preceding 90 days.

However, each county may have additional guidelines. Maui County has yet to release eligibility framework, O’Meara said. He added that Catholic Charities Hawai’i is handling rental assistance applications for Maui.

“Maui and Kauai (eligibility) will have something to do with 80 percent AMI because of federal guidelines, but we don’t know specifics yet,” he said. “That’s how fresh this is. This is just evolving this week.”

The attorney said if a person doesn’t make the first priority cut, they should try again. Distribution of rental assistance can take months, especially for people closer to 80 percent AMI.

Maui’s 80 percent AMI for fiscal year 2020 is $57,400 for one person, $65,600 for two, $73,800 for three and $82,000 for four, according to the presentation.

O’Meara said tenants or landlords may apply for the assistance and typically must work with one another to collect data needed for the application.

If there are landlords who choose not to participate, possibly because they have illegal rentals or they don’t have a general excise tax license, there is still a way for tenants to apply for money without landlords as long as they provide proof they are actually paying the landlord and not keeping the money, he added.

O’Meara said one of the most important things he tells people is to get paperwork ready now. Government-issued photo ID, proof of island residency, rental agreement, past due rent or utility notice, tax documents or pay stubs of two months of most recent income and proof of COVID-19 pandemic-related hardship, such as an unemployment letter, are all important to gather.

“Getting people ready, getting them to know what they have to do, is a real important part of this process,” he said.

For property owners, O’Meara said the state is in the process of applying for mortgage payment relief and is expecting to receive about $50 million from the federal government. This assistance isn’t for tenants or landlords, but for property owners to use on mortgage payments and potentially for AOAO and association dues.

“There is going to be some assistance, but right now we don’t know exactly how that is going to happen,” he said.

Part of Gov. David Ige’s COVID-19 emergency proclamation, the eviction moratorium, which began April 16, 2020 and expires Tuesday, is expected to be extended by the governor until “at least June 30.” State leaders usually follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium, which was extended to June 30, according to O’Meara.

The eviction moratorium suspends certain laws so people can’t be evicted for nonpayment. The rule suspends collection of holdover rent, five-day demand to pay unpaid rent and court action to evict a tenant for unpaid rent.

As the pandemic drags on, housing discrimination has been on the rise, experts at the seminar said. This can come in the form of national origin discrimination, where people with limited English are “bullied” out of their housing situations; sexual harassment, which preys on vulnerable renters who are manipulated in times of economic hardship; and disability discrimination, which includes denying reasonable accommodation requests.

Passed in 1968, the federal Fair Housing Act restricts discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings for those included in certain protected classes, which, under the federal law, include sex, race, color, religion, disability, familial status and national origin. Those are covered under the state, as well as Hawaii-specific classes, which include age, ancestry, HIV status, hanai status, marital status, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.

The 2021 Statewide Fair Housing Conference will be held every Thursday this month. The training is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with a host of state, county and legal agencies throughout Hawaii.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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