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CT Sets An Example Across The Country In Rental Assistance Distribution

UniteCT Bus
Camila Vallejo
/
Connecticut Public Radio
UniteCT mobile bus outside of Middletown Senior and Community Center on September 2, 2021.

U.S. Department of Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo stopped in Middletown on Thursday to applaud the state’s rental assistance program, UniteCT.

The program was launched in March to help very low to moderate income households as renters struggled to keep up to date due to the pandemic. Unite CT provides eligible tenants with up to $15,000 for backed up rent and $1,500 for utilities.

The recovery efforts kicked off after Congress gave Connecticut $212.3 million in rental relief through the CARES act. The state received a similar amount again from the American Rescue Plan Act totaling to about $450 million to help keep people housed. And while the same amount of money was allocated to each state across the country, Adeyemo said some programs are doing better than others. And Connecticut is setting an example.

“I’m in Connecticut because I want to learn what the rest of the country can do to do what you’re doing here in Connecticut so well,” Adeyemo said.

UniteCT has committed $111.7 million dollars so far or around 70 percent of funds from the first round of money. Connecticut is in the top 5 states distributing the most money nationwide, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s spending dashboard.

As Adeyemo toured Unite CT’s mobile bus, launched by the program to reach communities with low access to technology, he said it was clear to him leadership was the key behind Connecticut’s flowing distribution.

He said it’s not only the leadership from the state Department of Housing in creating innovative outreach options but also from Gov. Ned Lamont.

When the state’s ban on residential evictions lapsed in June, Lamont signed executive order 12D. The order provides a couple safeguards for tenants by requiring landlords to apply for UniteCT before moving forward with an eviction. The goal is to make landlords financially whole again while still keeping as many people housed.

“We’re calling on others across the country to largely do what you’re already doing here in Connecticut. Making sure that everyone has access to the rental assistance program before they’re evicted.” Adeyemo said. “When someone is evicted, it’s extremely destabilizing especially in a pandemic.”

The visit comes as rent relief programs across the country face a looming deadline from the U.S. Department of Treasury. Starting September 30th, state programs that haven’t been able to get out more than half of their funding from the CARES act will risk losing it. Those funds will then be reallocated to other states.

“So places like Connecticut that are spending out the money have more resources for the people who need it,” Adeyemo said.

While Connecticut is moving along in distribution, it hasn’t always been that way. The Department of Housing has never run a program of this scale in the past. And UniteCT encountered some roadblocks the first couple of months. The program has been criticized by housing advocates and landlords alike for having a completely online process and requiring participation from both tenants and landlords.

“During those first three it was clear we were building the plane as we were flying. Now we are flying,” said UniteCT program director Dawn Parker.

She said as more money may be on the way to Connecticut, UniteCT is aiming to shift some focus in an effort to reach as many people as possible. To date, the program has primarily helped households in the 0 to 60 percent of area median income range.

Eligible households for UniteCT can make up to 80 percent of area median income, which differs by town.

“We need to start engaging the 60 to 80 percent renters who aren’t used to programs available for them,” Parker said.

She said renters in the higher income bands probably struggled during COVID, too, but they have found ways to pay the rent by sacrificing other priority or accruing debt. As such, if renters aren’t behind on their rent, but were affected financially by the pandemic, they could be eligible for help from UniteCT.

“Since Unite CT can look forward, if people can explain their situation and how their money has changed during COVID, we’ll help them with three month prospective rent,” Parker said.

Adeyemo said he’s happy to see how UniteCT is using guidance from the federal government to not only help people avoid evictions, but also help them secure financial stability -- even if it’s just for a couple months.

“Economic opportunity of each family in the state of Connecticut and in this country doesn't just matter to that family but to all of us.” Adeyemo said. “It’s the difference between our economy growing or our economy shrinking. It's the difference between us being competitive or us being a country that’s retracting. This is why we’re making investments in the American people.”