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Rent, utility relief on hand to help Oahu residents during pandemic

The City and County of Honolulu will reopen the Rental and Utility Relief Program to another 10,000 applicants Monday evening.

The highly sought-after program provides help with rent or utility payments for those suffering from hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, using federal relief funds.

During its launch in early April, applications were closed after the maximum of 8,000 applicants was reached in just four hours. During the second round, the maximum of 4,000 applicants was reached in just about 20 minutes.

The portal at oneoahu.org/renthelp reopens for the next round at 6 p.m. Monday.

“The City and our community partners urge any eligible Oahu households that have not applied already to strongly consider applying for help paying their rent and bills for electricity, water and sewer, and gas,” said Executive Director of the Office of Economic Revitalization Amy Asselbaye in a news release. “We thank everyone for their patience as we work with our community partners in verifying each household’s income, lease, and eligibility documents. By working together, we will keep thousands of our neighbors in their homes.”

Qualifying households are eligible for up to $2,500 a month for unpaid rent and electric, sewer and water, or gas bills; up to $2,000 a month for current or future rent payments; and up to $500 a month for current or future electric, water and sewer, and gas bills.

The payments can be for bills dating back to March 13, 2020, as well as current bills, or three months of future bills. Total payments can be for as many as 12 months, and are made directly to a landlord or utility.

The city advises interested applicants to gather all necessary documents ahead of time.

Only one person per household should apply. Multiple applications from the same household will not be allowed, and those who have already applied in the first two rounds should not apply again.

The city’s program is for rent only, and not for mortgage help, under federal guidelines.

Under federal guidelines, applicants earning 50% of Oahu’s annual median income or lower will have priority. For a household of four, that is $62,950 a year or less.

To qualify, a household must also demonstrate financial harm from the pandemic and have at least one member at risk of losing housing. A household also can qualify if at least one member has been unemployed for 90 days at the time of application.

Officials remind applicants that being accepted into the program does not mean immediate payment to a landlord or utility.

The city’s community partners must verify if an applicant qualifies by confirming income limits and validating documents. Each landlord also will have to submit a signed W-9 tax document, and any delays doing so also will delay the payment process.

City officials said that in the program’s first eight weeks, nearly 2,000 households have received more than $15.3 million in rent and utility payments.

Going forward, the portal will open the first working Monday of each month, as long as the program has funding. Following this Monday, the next round will open on July 12.

Separately, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is offering more than $1 million in emergency financial assistance to Native Hawaiians, ages 18 and up, to help pay rent, mortgage and utilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OHA’s Ka Wailele Emergency Financial Assistance Program will provide grants of up to $1,500 for past-due rent, mortgage, utilities and rent deposits to an estimated 520 households that can prove Native Hawaiian ancestry, Hawaii residency, financial hardship and need for assistance.

The program is being administered by Hawai‘i Community Lending, which will process applications and make payments directly to landlords, mortgage lenders or utility providers.

To apply, visit oha.org/emergencyaid or kawailele.org or call HCL at 587-7656.

Get help

Honolulu Rental and Utility Relief Program:

>> A webinar to answer questions will be held from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. today at facebook.com/oneoahu.

>> Visit oneoahu.org/renthelp FAQs for more information or call 768-CITY (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily).

Source: City and County of Honolulu

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