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City to accept 5,000 new rent relief applications from Honolulu residents

The city will accept 5,000 new applications starting at noon Thursday from renters who need relief and are struggling from the COVID- 19 pandemic.

Households making 80% or less of Oahu’s median income can apply. For a household of four, that is $100,700 a year.

To qualify, a household must show it is struggling financially because of the pandemic, have at least one member at risk of losing housing or at least one member has been unemployed for 90 days when applying.

Renters can go to Honolulu’s Rental Utility Relief Program online at oneoahu.org/renthelp.

“The Rental and Utility Relief Program is a major part of the City’s outreach to help our neighbors stay in their homes and make landlords whole,” said Amy Asselbaye, executive director of the Office of Economic Revitalization. “We urge Oahu renters who are struggling from the pandemic to … see if they qualify, and get ready to apply.”

The program helps landlords by making direct payments to approved landlords of up to 12 months of unpaid rent or future rent, Asselbaye said.

It took just 20 minutes for the city to reach the maximum 4,000 applications in the second round of rent relief in May.

Rental assistance for Oahu residents began in April with 8,000 applications, In the third and most recent round in June, the city had a 10,000-application limit, and the portal was open for three weeks.

About 15,000 applications were declined because they were either duplicates, not completed by the applicant after several follow-ups, requests for mortgage relief or possibly fraudulent, said Patrick Williams, spokesman for the city’s Office of Economic Revitalization.

In the case of roommates, one household equals one lease, and everyone on the one lease is considered a household. So only one person should apply. If two or three people apply, they will be disqualified because of duplicate applications, Williams explained.

The city is working with a number of nonprofits to assist those with online access, language and other challenges. The city is also encouraging applicants to turn to family members or friends with internet access to assist them in applying if needed.

“It’s a quicker way to apply,” he said.

Otherwise, they can call 768-CITY and will be set up with one of the city’s partners for assistance. The city’s community partners have hired an additional 100 intake specialists ready to help.

Landlords are required to submit a W-9 federal tax form, which lists their Social Security number or taxpayer identification number.

“The sooner the land- lord submits the W-9, the sooner they can get paid,” Williams said.

But if the landlord does not after several requests, the program can provide rental relief directly to the tenant. The tenant, in turn, is expected to pay the rent to the landlord and provide a receipt to the program.

“We greatly appreciate our partnerships with Catholic Charities Hawai‘i and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement in keeping families housed, as well as the support of the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness, The Mediation Center of the Pacific, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, and community groups such as the Ko‘olau Housing Hui,” Asselbaye said.

The program has already approved over 6,000 households and distributed about $50 million to landlords and utility companies since it began in April.

What you need to apply and who can apply:

>> Gather needed documents. A complete list is online.

>> New applications only.

>> Only one person per household should apply.

>> Don’t apply for mortgage help.

For households that qualify, the program will pay:

>> Up to $2,500 a month for unpaid rent and electrical, sewer and water or gas bills.

>> Up to $2,000 a month for rent payments.

>> Up to $500 a month for electrical, water and sewer and gas bills.

>> Bills going back to March 13, 2020, or future bills.

>> Total payments can cover up to 12 months.

Payments are made directly to a landlord or utility.

Anyone with questions should review the online FAQ. If the FAQ doesn’t answer them, call 768-2489 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.

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