After closing in January to clear the backlog of applications, the Chatham County Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program has reopened with another vendor ready to distribute millions rent and utility bill help to local renters.
The program has already obligated $11.6 million to its vendors — Chatham-Savannah Homeless Authority, Economic Opportunity Authority, Family Promise, Greenbriar Children’s Center, Park Place Outreach, The Salvation Army, Union Mission and United Way — and the county awaiting another $13.1 million from the U.S. Treasury. A new vendor, the Georgia Micro-Enterprise Network, has also been enlisted to help distribute the funds.
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The qualifications and award limits are still much the same as they were last year, with only renters able to apply for up to 18 months of relief for unpaid utility bills and rent. To qualify, renters must be at-risk of eviction for nonpayment, have been unemployed for 90 days or more, or have a household income that's 50% or less than the area median income, which equates to $28,869.50 or less in Chatham County.
The local mortgage assistance program has ceased, but homeowners can still see if they qualify with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
The relief comes amid an ever-worsening housing crisis, which has been exacerbated by rising inflation and high demand for housing stock.
More than 3,500 households have been served with eviction notices in Chatham County since the New Year. While not all were cases on nonpayment evictions, many renters are still struggling to keep up with payments as rent spikes month after month.
Savannah-market rent reached an average of $1,500 for a one-bedroom apartment in April, according to real estate platform Dwellsy, which is a 17% increase from April 2021.
Evictions are a financial and health hardship for families. Evictions exacerbate health issues, and often families have to move to a higher-poverty area, where access to healthy food, medical services and quality education are harder to attain, according to a 2015 Harvard University study. In Chatham County, nonprofit leaders said families are forced to move into extended motels or with families, effectively becoming homeless.
The city of Savannah has committed to building hundreds of affordable housing units, but construction takes time, which is why the city is leveraging its political power to incentivize the creation of low- and moderate-income renters through an inclusionary zoning ordinance. The ordinance is under review by city staff, and should be brought to council in the fall, according to city manager Jay Melder.
Zoe covers growth and how it impacts communities in the Savannah area. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org, @zoenicholson_ on Twitter, and @zoenicholsonreporter on Instagram.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Rent relief program reopens for Chatham County, Savannah renters