Pulaski County tenants who applied for rent relief funds from the county on or before July 5 will receive assistance by the end of the week, county communications director Cozetta Jones said Wednesday.
The county had expected to exhaust its $11.7 million in federal funds, dedicated to help tenants who fell behind on rent due to the covid-19 pandemic, by the end of October. The state Department of Human Services took over distribution of rental assistance funds in Pulaski County earlier this month. The state received about $173 million in rental assistance funds to distribute throughout the state.
The program covers past-due rent dating back to April 1, 2020. It also can cover missed utility payments and up to three months of future rent.
As of Wednesday, Pulaski County has distributed $9.13 million, or 86.4%, of its $10.57 million rental assistance budget, leaving about $1.44 million to give to tenants, according to data Jones provided the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The remaining $1.1 million of the $11.7 million allocation covered administrative costs.
The program received 18,835 applications before it stopped accepting them on Oct. 6, and it has served 1,481 people via 7,886 individual payments, according to the data. It denied 1,865 applications, and 178 are currently being reviewed.
The county retained all applications from July 5 or earlier and tasked the state's rent relief program with fulfilling the rest, Jones said. Tenants who applied later than July 5 with the county had to fill out new applications for the state's program.
Meanwhile, the state had distributed $41.1 million in rental assistance as of Tuesday, Department of Human Services spokesman Gavin Lesnick said in an email.
"We are pleased to be distributing rental assistance to eligible clients in Pulaski County, and we are working to make sure payments go out as quickly as possible there and across the rest of the state where this program is available," Lesnick said.
Lesnick said 2,460 Pulaski County households have applied for rental assistance from the state since Nov. 1, and as of Nov. 19, 150 had received the requested funds.
The state initially administered rent relief to 72 counties before adding Pulaski County, which received its own pot of money from the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act as one of the three most populous counties in Arkansas. The other two, Benton and Washington counties, each had their own rental assistance programs and have distributed most or all of their funds.
Lesnick said the Department of Human Services is "working on finalizing financial assistance that would support those programs" in Benton and Washington counties.
Malik Marshall, an organizer with Arkansas Renters United, said the process of assisting Pulaski County residents is "way better in DHS' hands" than in the county's.
"It's clear that they're doing their best to make this work," Marshall said. "We were generally unhappy with how it went down in that tenants from Pulaski County had to reapply, but [the state] did their best to make this as painless as it could possibly be."
The process has not been painless for Deeann Chadwick, a tenant in Sherwood who has not yet received rental assistance after applying in early July.
Because she sent the application to Pulaski County after July 5, she had to send a new application to the Department of Human Services earlier this month, and she said she is frustrated that the program's transition apparently did not "keep people where they were in line."
Chadwick's utilities have been shut off twice, and she was served with an eviction notice in October because her landlord was "tired of hearing" that financial help is on the way, she said.
"It's very embarrassing and frustrating when you need help, and it's supposed to be there, but it's not, or it's taking too long," she said.
She said she does not know where she will live if her court appearance in December results in eviction.
Pulaski County officials have said landlords did not need to submit matching rent relief applications for each tenant who applied, a rule that the state had in place for its rent relief program until early September.
However, some tenants told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in September that the county denied their applications because their landlords did not sign on.
Additionally, the state faced pressure to loosen some of the application requirements after it had only given out $7.2 million by the end of August and faced a backlog of more than 8,000 applications.
After a letter from U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the House majority whip, the Department of Human Services lifted the requirement for landlords to submit matching applications for their tenants. The department still accepts landlords' applications but has given money to tenants without them since Sept. 8.
As of Tuesday, the state has made 19,273 rent relief payments through 12,748 applications, Lesnick said. He added that 10,500 applications are under review, 2,050 "are in the final stages of payment" and 815 have been denied.