Rental and Utility Assistance in 2021

Greetings, friends and colleagues!

When a coworker pointed out my last blog post was back in December, I was astonished. Where did the first ten weeks of 2021 go? I don’t know about you, but time feels like it drags by and disappears in an instant…not sure how both can be true, but it does feel like that.

A partial answer to what the last 10 weeks have entailed, however, includes finishing up our CARES-funded programs and accounting, taking a break from the trauma and uncertainty of 2020, and resolving ourselves to the fact that the pandemic did not actually end with the year, as so many of us had hoped. We also spent some time debriefing what we did well in our COVID response efforts last year, lessons learned, and what we can improve on. As it turns out, that reflection came in handy quickly, since we recently received two sizeable federal grants to provide rental assistance.

Pierce County and the City of Tacoma have partnered for a new rental and utility assistance program.

Human Services, in partnership with the City of Tacoma, has worked diligently to align efforts to ensure people already feeling stress from the pandemic can access resources to help stabilize their housing, including utility assistance.  This partnership will strengthen our ability to provide rental assistance to all of our community members who have had impacts during COVID-19

In 2020, it was obvious that funds to help keep people housed would be an early and ongoing need. In fact, the Pierce County Council made an initial appropriation of $250K to stand up our first rental assistance program early on in our pandemic response. As with all things COVID-related, they look so different in hindsight. We thought that $250K would be a great initial investment in helping people pay rent. Now, 12+ months later, we know that the eventual $20M we paid out in rental assistance last year still only scratched the surface. We provided an average of two months of rent to about 7,000 residents in 2020. According to our housing data, demand for help is more like 15,000-20,000 residents, and could be for all the last 12 months (if you do the math, that will cost almost $300 MILLION).

So, it’s a good thing that we have received another $58M to continue providing rental assistance in Pierce County, and we anticipate even more coming as the details are worked out in the newly passed American Rescue Plan Act. As for those reflections about what we did well and how we could improve? Well, we’ve used that information to improve on the following this time around:

  • Create a robust online application to streamline the process for providers, renters, and landlords
  • Allow landlords to pre-register for their renters who are behind in payments
  • Fund up to 12 months of rental arrears
  • Provide rental payments to cover informal leases or sub-leases
  • Connect our payment program with the Superior Court’s Eviction Resolution program to help tenants and landlords who need more than cash support

As many of you know, impacts of this pandemic continue to be widespread and deep, affecting our lowest income residents the hardest. Recovery is on the horizon, but it will be long and challenging for some. I’m grateful we have the relief dollars on the way to help our neighbors pay their rent and stay in their homes.

In future posts, I’ll share more about what else we will be doing to help our most vulnerable populations through these times, but for now, please help us spread the word about this vital program by sharing the flyers linked below.

Rental Assistance Flyers in English, Spanish, Korean, Tagalog and Russian.

In partnership,