Henrico’s emergency program has already covered nearly $400,000 in costs
Even as COVID-19 vaccination efforts ramp up, qualifying Henrico County residents can receive emergency rental assistance if their finances have been hurt during the pandemic.
The Henrico COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program has covered $389,000 in expenses – an average rent payment of more than $2,500 – since it started in July.
The Board of Supervisors recently bolstered the program, adding $200,000 in new federal funding to the initial pool of $240,000 provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.
The ERA program can offset rent and utility costs for income-eligible households impacted by COVID-19 through a job loss, furlough, a reduction in work hours or the closure of schools or daycare services.
To qualify, individuals must live in Henrico, have their name on a lease agreement and meet other criteria. Households may not exceed low-to-moderate income limits, which are defined as 80% of the average median income for the area. That would equate to a maximum income of $64,350 for a three-person household in Henrico.
The Department of Social Services is prepared to guide residents through the application process and extend as much assistance as possible to those who qualify, said Paul Woodard, who supervises the ERA program.
“Many of our neighbors are in real crisis,” he said. “They have large, overdue rent bills, have exhausted their savings and lack the means to pay their rent. It’s important for them not to lose hope.”
In addition to the ERA program, Henrico residents may seek assistance through the Virginia Rent Relief Program, which was recently announced as receiving $524 million in new federal funding.
“Our intent is to make sure as many people as possible in the county receive that money,” said Eric Leabough, director of the county’s Department of Community Revitalization.
A 57-year-old woman who lives in western Henrico said the ERA program extended a lifeline by covering her apartment’s rent payments for November, December and January. She is optimistic she will qualify for additional assistance through April.
“I’m so grateful for the program y’all have,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified. “I have no idea where I’d be right now [without it].”
The woman said she has been unable to work her administrative job in a hospital unit since last March because she is allergic to the personal protective equipment that health care professionals are required to wear due to COVID-19.
She said she was denied disability leave and has filed for unemployment benefits, but the review of her application remains pending. She said she has depleted her savings, is receiving assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and reluctantly has accepted help from relatives to keep her car from being repossessed.
“I’ve never been more depressed and cried more on the drop of a dime than I have the past year,” she said.
Leabough said he worries that the federal moratorium on evictions may give some renters a false sense of security, because unpaid rents continue to accrue and eventually will have to be paid. The moratorium on evictions is currently in effect through March 31.
“Just because a moratorium is in place, you still owe the rent,” he said. “You either pay now or pay later.”
By tapping the county’s ERA program or the Virginia Rent Relief Program while funding is available, households can continue to make rent payments, allowing them to avoid eventual eviction and being flagged as a credit risk.
“At some point, not paying your rent will impact you long term,” Leabough said.
In the meantime, more in the community are getting vaccinated. In Henrico, 68,572 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered and 20,758 individuals had been fully vaccinated as of Feb. 25, according to the Virginia Department of Health. To preregister for an appointment, go to vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (1-877-829-4682).
For more information on the Henrico COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance program, contact the Department of Social Services at (804) 501-5294 or go online. Applications are available by download or mail upon request. A screening questionnaire can help individuals determine their eligibility for assistance.