By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday approved spending another $8.4 million in emergency rental assistance (ERA) for residents who are struggling to pay rent or energy bills.
Residents and landlords seeking more on ERA can visit https://birminghamal.gov/renthelp or call (205) 254-2309 for assistance.
The additional funds, which brings the city’s total to about $26 million for ERA since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, comes from remaining state funds, according to city officials.
Mayor Randall Woodfin the city has so far given out about $15 million to 2,544 families. “Our program is recognized as one of the most effective in the nation,” he said.
Dr. Meghan Venable-Thomas, director of Community Development for the city, said that the success of the program was helped by the partnership among the city, local nonprofit Aletheia House and national financial services company MoCaFi, which help residents fill out paperwork for assistance applications, and facilitate payments directly to landlords. “I think things get bogged down when you don’t have a clean pathway for” filling out the applications, Venable-Thomas said.
She added many of the early struggles of the program have been overcome be helping residents with the paperwork.
“Because [city staff and our partners] work directly with the client to make sure that the paperwork is good, you really need that feedback loop…Folks who have questions can call us. We can help [them] walk through the program, and that’s part of the program management too,” Venable-Thomas said.
The ERA program is one of several that has promoted more sustainable living for residents in Birmingham, Venable-Thomas said.
Programs like the upcoming “Home for All,” which intends to provide livable micro-shelters, along with education and resources for homeless residents of the city, exemplify the solution-based mindset of the department, she said.
“We’re also trying to think about how we get upstream to solving the problems and not just responding to our challenges,” Venable-Thomas said. “How do we help people to get stable, but also how do we provide the types of resources that help people be sustainable?”