This week, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, the state housing authority, announced a $10 million program to assist Alaskans with their rent and mortgage obligations. This funding is a slice of the $1.5 billion dollars the state received from the federal CARES Act to use for homeless prevention with a focus on Alaskans who lost income due to COVID-19 and, without government assistance, may otherwise lose their housing to eviction or foreclosure.
Families in Alaska with households that have lost income and are at less than 80% of Area Median Income as a result of COVID-19 are eligible to apply for up to one month of rent or mortgage relief. Rent relief excludes utilities; mortgage relief includes principal and interest only. Each household is eligible for no more than $1,200.
Stacy Barnes, VP of Government Relations and spokesperson for the program, explained what the qualifications mean for Kodiak.
“They would have to be in Kodiak at $78,720 annually or less in order to apply. And if they go to that website alaskahousingrelief.org, they’ll be able to check their eligibility for that.”
Barnes also noted that this financial relief will go straight to the renter’s landlord or the homeowner’s mortgage lender, and they may apply it to any back payments owed or apply it to July or August’s payment.
“It will depend based on whether they’re in arrears and if they are behind, that money is going be applied to their May or June rent. If they are current on it but have experienced hardship and qualify for the assistance, that money would go toward their July or August rent, depending on when the payment is due to the landlord or lender.”
The idea of a lottery is unique to state housing assistance programs funded by the CARES Act. Other states use a first-in-line approach or a needs-based system, and the AHFC recognizes that a lottery system can confuse the public. There is no cost to enter the lottery, and it was devised by the corporation to better assist rural and remote Alaskans, and even Kodiakans out fishing.
Barnes said, “One of the things that we were sensitive to here is, first, we already utilize a lottery program in our public housing in Anchorage where we often see the number of people who are telling us they have need is greater than the number of units that we have available. It’s a process that has worked really well for us. But we also thought about people who live in Kodiak who might be out on a boat. We’ve seen and learned from a variety of programs connected to the CARES Act that in a ‘first-in, first-out’ methodology, we’d be putting a lot of stress on Alaskans to get off their boat to be there to apply on June 15, first thing right away, so that they could have access to those funds.”
Barnes estimates that this program will help between 8 and 12 thousand households, about 5% of all households in Alaska. That’s just an estimate of Alaskans’ need at this time.
“We don’t have really good data right now on how many people who are actually behind on their rent or behind on their mortgage, other than what we see in our own portfolio. So on a statewide basis, that would be really helpful information to be able to get.”
The process for applying for rent or mortgage relief is simple. Go to alaskahousingrelief.org to access the online application, or call or text RELIEF to 833-440-0420 if you are unable to access the application online.
The application period begins 7:00 a.m. Monday, June 15, and ends at 11:59pm June 26. The brief application includes a basic questionnaire asking your name, primary address, and certification of loss of income.
Barnes added, “Really the entire application process should take less than five minutes.”
The lottery will take place when the application period closes. AHFC will pool all names using an established best practice in public housing then run a randomized statewide lottery. When chosen, recipients will be asked to provide additional information that verifies their loss of income and includes contact information for their landlord and/or mortgage lender.
“The income requirement does apply to those who have lost income as a result of covid-19. So it could be reduced hours, it could be total layoffs, it could be any number of things that have affected their business. If they’re a small business and they’ve had to close doors or reduce hours, they would obviously be able to qualify for this program.”
Payment distribution is targeted for July 2020.
While Alaska’s housing assistance lottery provides a short-term gap stop for struggling households, there is no long-term housing assistance plan in the wake of the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which concerns many economists as the United States has been in a recession since February.
Alaskan households struggling to meet rent and mortgage obligations in recent months have had the security of Senate Bill 241, the statewide moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, which Governor Mike Dunleavy signed in May. But the moratorium is set to end on June 30, and Governor Dunleavy has not indicated if the state will extend that moratorium.
Families already receiving public housing assistance from AHFC are not eligible for this program but may receive rent relief under another program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.
Kodiakans can learn more about the lottery and its program requirements, and about other relief programs, at AlaskaHousingRelief.org, where you can also submit a request to be reminded when the application period opens.