By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
With many tenants losing shelter after the recent end to the national eviction moratorium, the city of Birmingham is finding a way to help some struggling Birmingham residents, giving out $2.4 million in rental assistance, said Chris Hatcher, interim director, City of Birmingham’s Community Development Department.
“I do know that there is a plethora of eviction proceedings that have been initiated,” Hatcher said. “Just because we had the eviction moratorium, that did not stop landlords from initiating the eviction process.”
The city’s rental and utility assistance program, which began taking applications in April, is the local implementation of the national Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA), one of multiple relief plans designed to target the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is designed to help people pay overdue rent that may have accumulated over a change in employment due to the health crisis.
Of the total $46.5 billion issued nationally, Birmingham, in its first wave of ERA funding, is giving out $5.6 million to renters within city limits. The city has since given out about $2,485,702, with about $2.2 million having gone to overdue rent and $200,000 to utilities. This first allocation of federal funds must be spent by Sep. 30, 2022.
Hatcher said the city has faced some challenges since it began taking applications for the program. The “paperwork was very onerous,” meaning few residents applied, he said. However, the United States Treasury has since reduced the load of paperwork on tenants looking to use the program, Hatcher said.
“The Treasury has lessened some of those documenting standards, so that’s one reason why I think the programs are moving a lot more efficiently,” Hatcher said. “Several months back, the eviction moratorium was looming, and now it’s come to fruition, so we’re receiving a lot more applications as well.”
There are some delays when applicants don’t supply all the documentation the first time, Hatcher said. “Sometimes, [we require a] second time, or a third time, so there’s repeated interaction between the applicant and our case managers, just to make sure that we have all the right documentation.”
Assuming a particular tenant submits all of the required information on the first try, it should take “no more than 21 days” to provide rental assistance, he said.
Beyond the paperwork, Hatcher added that city employees are also making adjustments. “We’re learning as we go,” he said, “and our case managers, our reviewers and our administrative staff are getting comfortable with the systems in place, and we’re able to move a lot quicker as well.”
Hatcher said he believes the city should be able to use up the first allocation of rental assistance funds “before the end of this year.”
Despite the city’s efforts, Hatcher said the program may not be enough to address the financial strain on some tenants in the city.
“Many of our residents, their situations are not changing as far as income, jobs and things of that nature,” Hatcher said. “We’re providing assistance now, and the original intent of the federal government was that we were providing assistance until we get on the other side of this pandemic. Well, this pandemic is going on. It seems like it’s going to go on a lot longer than what was anticipated.”
Unless there were additional federal funds “funneled down,” current funding will not be enough to “sustain renters,” he said.
Hatcher said landlords can even apply for the assistance money, if that can help keep a tenant from being evicted but remains hopeful that tenants and landlords can work together before any action is taken.
“We’ve been in talks with the court systems, and we’ve been in talks with attorneys for landlords to try to get them to come through our program, first, before they before they proceed with evictions,” Hatcher said. “We’ve made that plea.”
To apply for overdue rental or utility assistance, visit https://birminghamal.gov/covidrent