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Applications closed for rent relief 4 hours after city program launches

In less than four hours, the city received 8,000 applications for its Rental and Utility Relief Program, maxing out the amount it was willing to accept in this first round. New applications are temporarily no longer being accepted.

Honolulu launched the program Monday to distribute $114 million in federal COVID relief for rent and utilities by the end of the year. It has not yet been determined when the next round of applications will be accepted.

The limit of 8,000 applications was implemented to combat some of the problems that made dispersing the city’s last rental assistance program in 2020 difficult. The backlog of applications was so vast that some of the funds from the last program have yet to be distributed. The 8,000-­application limit is meant to help manage processing the applications.

“By better managing the flow, we can get payments out in a more timely manner, avoid the backlogs of unprocessed applications and the needless frustration and delay,” said Amy Asselbaye, executive director of the Office of Economic Revitalization.

“When we get those applications, the portal will temporarily close (to) review applications, gather additional information from applicants, get those payments out to the landlords and utilities, as well to reopen for the next group of applicants shortly thereafter. We believe this is the best way to manage the flow of applications and help our partners to get the money out as quickly as possible.”

However, the city urged those who already started their applications to continue to submit their application materials at the personalized link that they were provided.

The first round prioritized households below 50% of the area median income in Honolulu, which is $44,100 a year for one person and $62,950 for a family of four. Those who have a member of the household who has been unemployed for at least 90 days, and is still currently unemployed, were also accepted.

“We are really focused on making sure that we do this equitably,” Mayor Rick Blangiardi said.

“There’s a lot of money to give out, and we know that it needs to be dispersed island­- wide as best we can do.”

Those who are seeking relief will need to show that they were financially harmed during the pandemic, such as unemployment or a reduction in wages. One household member must be at risk of losing their housing.

Households that qualify will be able to receive up to $2,500 a month for outstanding rent and utility payments, up to $2,000 for future rent payments and up to $500 for future utility payments. The total amount of these payments can continue for up to 12 months and will be made directly to the landlord or utility company. The program can cover bills dating back to March 2020.

Another major change to the relief program is that landlords will be able to apply on behalf of tenants, Asselbaye said.

“This will help landlords with their financial stability and will also promote a more positive relationship between the landlords and the tenants who are in arrears,” she said.

The city is working with Catholic Charities Hawai‘i and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement to administer the funds. Both Hawaii Community Foundation and the Sony Group Corp. provided $100,000 grants to support the program’s delivery. Sixty-five percent of the funds must be distributed by Sept. 30, and the rest must be given out by the end of the year.

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