Residents struggling to pay rent or utility bills in Northwest Arkansas because of the pandemic have help available.
Benton County released information Tuesday on how residents can apply for federal assistance. The county partnered with the Excellerate Foundation in Springdale, a nonprofit group working to address needs of Northwest Arkansas residents in education, health and well-being.
Excellerate, formerly known as the Endeavor Foundation, will process applications through its division, Hark. A contact form for renters to apply for assistance is available at Hark's website at harknwa.com/getconnected . Renters also can call 211.
Washington County is partnering with the Fayetteville and Springdale housing authorities to distribute aid money, said Brian Lester, county attorney. Anyone in the county can contact either agency about receiving assistance, he said.
Northwest Arkansas overall is receiving more than $15 million in rental and bill relief money. Benton County received $8.3 million, with Washington County receiving $7.1 million. The program will last until Dec. 31 or until the money runs out.
The money comes from a $25 billion federal emergency rental assistance program from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. Arkansas was allocated more than $200 million.
There is a three-step process for Benton County residents to qualify, according to the Hark website. First, households must earn less than 80% of the median income for the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan area, which is $73,600. For a family of four, that means $58,900 or less in household income.
Second, someone in the household must have experienced financial difficulty because of the covid-19 pandemic. That means the person is eligible for unemployment benefits, has experienced a reduction in income or incurred significant costs because of the pandemic.
Third, the household has to demonstrate a risk of homelessness or housing instability because of the pandemic. Supporting documents must be provided, including a layoff letter, a rent-owed statement, an eviction notice, unemployment claim, tax documents or pay stubs.
One application per residence is permitted.
Payments will be made to landlords, property managers and utility companies that choose to participate in the program. Utility companies include water, electric and gas.
Those applying in Benton County through Hark will be assigned a community liaison who will contact them directly and help them through the application process. The community liaison will notify applicants if they are approved, and a web page will be available for people to track the status of their application on the Hark website.
Applicants also can contact Hark if their landlord declines receiving the assistance or fails to provide required documents for verification.
Liaisons will respond to those who fill out contact forms on a first-come, first-served basis. However, prioritization for processing will be given to those who have been unemployed for more than 90 days or households earning 50% or below area median income, according to the Hark website.
The Excellerate Foundation has been doing similar work for the past year with a $2 million grant for pandemic relief from the Walton Family Foundation, said Jeff Webster, chief executive officer of Excellerate.
The Excellerate Foundation already has an extensive list of people it serves, from those who earn less than $50,000 annually to people experiencing homelessness, he said.
"We're well aware of who this population base is, and all the programs that we're doing are always trying to target them," Webster said. "So we're pretty attuned to how to reach that population base."
Excellerate has relationships with schools, churches, major employers and other nonprofits for outreach, Webster said. Its partnership with United Way and 211, for instance, connects residents to the foundation for assistance, he said.
Webster estimated 6,000 to 7,000 residents could qualify for the program and are behind on rent. The foundation started processing applications Monday.
It should take about a week for a landlord or utility company to receive payment from the time a resident calls for help, Webster said.
The Fayetteville and Springdale housing authorities both will initially receive $1.5 million of the county's allocation, Lester said. Once each agency uses 75% of its portion, it can request more, he said.
Each agency will decide how it will process applications. Washington County Judge Joseph Wood also is reaching out to other organizations and exploring additional ways to disburse the aid money, Lester said. The county's grant division will keep track of the money, he said.
How to qualify
Residents making below 80% of the $73,600 median income for the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan area may qualify for rent and bill assistance from more than $15 million allocated to Northwest Arkansas. The income breakdown is below:
• One-person household: $41,250
• Two-person household: $47,150
• Three-person household: $53,050
• Four-person household: $58,900
• Five-person household: $63,650
• Six-person household: $68,350
• Seven-person household: $73,050
• Eight-person household: $77,750
Source: Hark at the Excellerate Foundation