Rent and mortgage help announced for those fallen behind during the COVID pandemic

Sep 28, 2020

People in danger of losing their homes, because they lost their means to make payments during the pandemic, will be able to apply for financial assistance to get caught up. Leaders announcing a new rent and mortgage assistance program Monday hope it will ease a wave of anticipated evictions or foreclosures weeks from now.

A moratorium on evictions remains in effect through the end of the year, but local government leaders worry about a housing crisis once that moratorium is lifted.

Kelly Dodd of 211 speaks outside the Rath Building, where an emergency rent and mortgage assistance program was announced Monday. 211, which links callers to needed human services, will begin taking applications for the program Thursday, October 1.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

"We could see foreclosures approaching over the horizon," said Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns outside the Rath Building Monday. "They may be months away, but we learned the importance of preparation these past several months. I'm sure the county executive would join me, along with the mayor and other elected officials, in wishing the county could have had a few more months to prepare for COVID. Now we have several months to prepare for this housing crisis."

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown joined Kearns, along with Erie County Legislature Chair April Baskin and other guests, to announce the forthcoming launch of the Live Well Erie and City of Buffalo CARES Act Renters and Mortgage Assistance Program. Ten million dollars from the county's CARES Act allocation will be made available to assist residents who fell behind on rent or mortgage payments during the COVID pandemic. Half of the cash pool will be set aside for tenants, the other half for homeowners.

"It was important that we addressed the issues associated with our economy and our community," Poloncarz said. "That's why we came up, after many, many weeks of working together, the group that you see here, with a program that we think will best suit the needs of those who are at risk of eviction, as well as potentially losing their home to foreclosure."

The assistance program will provide up to five months of rent or mortgage payments, at a maximum of $3,500 per household. In the case of tenants, money will be paid directly to landlords who are owed back rent.

Applications will be accepted beginning Thursday, October 1. To apply, candidates must call or log on to 211, a service which connects the client to needed human service programs.

"We do use LanguageLine for translation services. So folks don't need to worry about having their child translate for them or anything like that. They can call us and we can talk to them directly," noted Kelly Dodd, Director of Contact Services for 211.

Applicants will need to provide documents proving their financial losses through a layoff, furlough, or other economic interruption directly caused by the COVID pandemic.

Poloncarz also noted that under the rules of CARES Act funding, the money must be distributed by the end of the year. While Dodd was advising interested residents to avoid jamming up the phone line by trying to call on day one, the county executive added that applicants should not wait until December, or risk not being accepted.