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Rental, mortgage assistance is on the way for low, moderate incomes

Our County

I grew up during the golden age of TV Westerns like “Daniel Boone,” “Gunsmoke,” “Rawhide” and “Bonanza.” The characters and plots changed between shows, but one story line remained pretty standard. A major character would somehow get trapped in a hopeless situation with no possible escape in sight. Then, unexpectedly, the U.S. Cavalry would appear on a distant ridge, ride in and save the day.

The Cavalry was disbanded in 1950, but the Feds can still come to your rescue. If the financial impact of COVID-19 has prevented you from paying your rent or utility bills, rest assured that help is on the way.

Earlier this year, Maui County’s Department of Housing and Human Concerns was awarded $40 million in relief funds through the U.S. Treasury Rental Assistance Program. If you can prove hardship, up to 15 months of your rent and/or utility bills could be paid for. This is welcome news for both you and your landlord.

The U.S. Treasury defines an “eligible renter household” as a household in which at least one or more individuals meet the following criteria:

• Qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19.

• Demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability.

• Has a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median income (for Maui, that is at or below $78,000 per year).

A special effort will be made to help households that make no more than 50 percent of the area median annual income ($48,750 or below) or those that have been unemployed for 90 days or longer. To demonstrate a risk of homelessness, you may need to include a past due rent or utility notice.

Catholic Charities Hawaii has been selected to administer the Rental Assistance Program on behalf of the County of Maui. Around mid-April we plan to release detailed information about eligibility requirements and how to apply. In the meantime, now is a good time to gather needed documents:

• Proof of being financially impacted by COVID-19, including verification of employment loss such as a layoff notice, an unemployment letter or some other signed proof of impact.

• Current lease or rental agreement that states the applicant’s name and address.

• Rental statement or notice indicating a balance of rent owed.

• Driver’s license or other government-issued identification for the head of household.

• Proof of income of all contributing household members, such as 1040s, recent pay stubs, unemployment claims or other contribution statements.

Eligible households may receive up to 12 months of rental assistance, plus an additional three months if the agency determines the extra months are needed to ensure housing stability.

The same program offers relief on overdue utility bills including water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, refuse collection and internet. Assistance is not available for cable television or telephone service. Applicants will be required to submit utility bills that show balance of payment due.

To prevent “double-dipping,” all applications will be vetted to determine if relief has been previously received through Catholic Charities, Aloha United Way, or Maui County’s Hawaii Emergency Laulima Partnership (HELP) Program administered by MEO, Family Life Center, Ka Hale A Ke Ola or Women Helping Women.

There’s help available for Maui County homeowners too. If your household has fallen behind on mortgage payments during the pandemic, look into the County Development Block Grant COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program, administered by Maui Economic Opportunity and Family Life Center.

This relief program is designed especially for low- to moderate-income households that did not receive mortgage assistance through any other federally funded program during 2020. Homeowners can qualify for mortgage assistance of up to $1,500 per month over a three-month period. For detailed information or to get an application, call MEO at (808) 249-2970.

There is no shame in asking for help. After the pandemic hit us last year, Maui island had the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 36 percent. Since then, our unemployment has decreased to 12.7 percent, still short of where we want to be.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government.

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