The Columbus Dispatch

Behind on rent because of COVID-19? Here’s help

- Titus Wu

Congress has given $560 million to Ohio to give to tenants behind on rent due to COVID-19. But thanks to understaff­ing, red tape and other factors, the state is struggling to get that money out and is at risk of losing $104 million of it.

If you’re behind on rent due to COVID-19, and you want to take advantage before that happens, here’s how to apply for the money.

First, make sure you are eligible for the aid. Households must fall below 80% of an area’s median income levels. For a family of four, that amount is less than $67,050 in the Columbus area, less than $64,100 in Akron and less than $68,300 in the Cincinnati metro area.

An applicant must qualify for unemployme­nt or has experience­d financial hardship due to COVID-19. One should be able to demonstrat­e they’re at risk of homelessne­ss. The grants can cover up to 15 months of rent and utilities incurred between March 2020 and September 2022.

Then, you should search for your local community action agency. These agencies are the ones who are in charge of distributi­ng that money and there is usually one per county. You can find them here or a directory here with contact informatio­n.

Each agency has their own specific way to get assistance. Some offer online options; others don’t. Make sure you understand what your agency is requiring and that you get all your needed paperwork ready.

It can be tough, especially if you’re in less-than-ideal circumstan­ces, to navigate all the red tape. Reach out to organizati­ons that provide free legal assistance to tenants such as the Legal Aid Society, which has organizati­ons across the state, including Columbus and Cincinnati.

Let your landlord know that you’ve applied for the rental assistance. In many cases, the agencies may need to contact the landlord to verify or obtain approval and informatio­n, such as how much money should be granted. A heads up can go a long way in smoothing the process.

Then, you just have to wait. Keep in mind that community action agencies in many areas are facing staffing problems, requests are numerous and a lot of paperwork is involved. Processed applicatio­ns can sometimes take up anywhere from one to two months.

The Ohio Department of Developmen­t has also said it is working on an online, centralize­d platform where anybody in the state can apply for rental assistance money. Keep your eyes tuned on its website.

Titus Wu is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other organizati­ons across Ohio.

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