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Changes to Rent Relief Program will expedite process to help tenants avoid eviction

09/08/2021

For Immediate Release:
September 8, 2021


Media Contacts
Amy Webb, Chief of Communications
amy.webb@dhs.arkansas.gov

Gavin Lesnick, Deputy Chief of Communications
gavin.lesnick.dhs@dhs.arkansas.gov

Several important changes have been made to the Arkansas Rent Relief Program to expedite the distribution of assistance, including measures that will prioritize funds for tenants who are at immediate risk of eviction or who have had an application pending for 30 days or more.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson last week asked the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) to review its processes surrounding how tenants and landlords apply and how those materials are approved for funding. The changes announced today are a result of that review, which aimed to streamline the process so funds can be provided at a quicker pace.

Changes being implemented now include:

–    Applicants who have indicated they received eviction notices or eviction/court paperwork will be prioritized. 
–    Funds can be paid to eligible tenant applicants if a landlord does not submit the required information within 10 days of the initial application. The program previously issued rental assistance payments only to landlords if both the tenant and landlord submitted all required information. DHS will attempt to reach the landlord at least three times during those 10 days, and the landlord will be paid directly if they respond.
–    The contractor handling the program for DHS is adding 70 additional staff to handle calls, help process cases, and conduct reviews as part of program integrity. This will bring the total number of contract employees working on the program to more than 160.
–    A new case management team has been added to focus exclusively on previously submitted tenant applications where the landlord did not submit information. Outstanding tenant applications will be prioritized based on risk of eviction and then in the order in which they were submitted.
–    Additional agents have been added to the call center to help with questions on the program. That number is 855.RENTARK (855.736.8275).
–    Marketing and educational materials are being updated to reflect the changes, and new training sessions for community-based organizations and landlords will be scheduled.

DHS has reviewed the submitted applications and determined that 2,784 of them are at risk of eviction because the applicant has received an eviction notice or received court eviction papers. Of these, 1,344, or 48 percent, have been paid or are expected to be paid by next week. A total of 1,418, or 51 percent of cases, remain pending, and these applications are being prioritized.

DHS also has reached out to the state’s three most populous counties – Benton, Pulaski, and Washington – to offer to assist to serve residents in those counties. Currently, residents in those counties must go through the county rent relief program and have not been eligible for the state program.

Through this week, the state program has or will distribute more than $9.8 million in assistance to more than 3,200 households in the state outside of Benton, Pulaski and Washington counties. This represents 21.71% of the total eligible applications submitted and 24.90% of the total dollars requested. 

The program, which launched in mid-May, is funded through $173 million provided by the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program through the U.S. Dept. of Treasury.

Funds may help cover past due rent, future rent, and certain utilities such as water, electricity, and gas. Payment assistance can be used for up to 15 months of rent and utilities incurred between April 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021.

Funding is available for those who meet the following criteria:

–    Someone in the household qualifies for unemployment benefits, OR
–    Household income decreased during the pandemic, OR
–    Someone in the household suffered significant financial hardship due to the pandemic, AND
–    Meet income eligibility based on the residing county (Area Median Income) and number of people in the household.

Those who have already applied can check on the status of their application by logging in to the application portal

Those who are unsure if they qualify are encouraged to apply. 

DHS also has provided social media toolkits to 220 community-based partners across the state. More than 20 partners help people apply and help spread the word about this program.

DHS is still seeking community-based organizations that can assist. Interested organizations can email Rentreliefpartners@dhs.arkansas.gov for more information.

Additional information is available at ar.gov/rentrelief.

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