Starting Monday, Nevadans who find themselves late on their rent payments can apply for assistance through a newly created state-run rent relief program. KUNR’s Paul Boger spoke with State Treasurer Zach Conine about the program and how it may help hundreds of thousands of people who may have fallen behind on their rent.
Boger: Treasurer, your office is spearheading this rental assistance program that was created in the wake of the economic fallout created by COVID-19. Can you give me a brief overview of the program?
Conine: So the state of Nevada has spun up a $30 million residential rental assistance program. It's funded through coronavirus relief fund [CRF] dollars, which were part of the CARES Act. It has a partner of a $20 million commercial rental assistance program that will roll out in a couple of weeks. But the intention here is to help Nevada renters who have fallen behind on their rent during the eviction and foreclosure moratorium and make sure that they can get back on their feet coming out of the pandemic.
Boger: How was this program developed? Where did it come from?
Conine: Our office developed the program working with the housing division and other regional programs, looking at what other states were doing and how they were spending their CRF dollars. We know that one of the biggest concerns coming out of any sort of economic recession is housing security, right? Especially even more so during a pandemic, when you want to make sure that people don't get kicked out of their homes if we're asking them to stay home for Nevada in order to stay safe. So we looked at programs from around the country, made a proposal to the governor's office, got the approval for it, and we've been working to implement ever since.
Boger: In total, there's currently about $30 million set aside for this rental assistance program. Is that funded through federal CARES Act dollars or is that state money?
Conine: Great question. One of the uses of CARES dollars — [and] it is CARES dollars coming from the last bill — the state received $836 million worth of coronavirus relief fund dollars, which is a specific portion of the CARES Act. CARES Act is much bigger. [It] includes all sorts of money for the states, but part of that was this $836 [million] CRF, as we call them, dollars. And in the guidance from the federal treasury department, not the state treasury department, it has all sorts of different rules and restrictions around what you can and can't use it for. Rental assistance is one of the usable purposes. So we put up a plan that would be able to use those dollars for that. So these monies can't be used directly to fill budgetary holes. That's one of the restrictions around them, but they can be used to help people.
Boger: Who’s qualifies for the assistance?
Conine: So we based our plan on other plans around the country that have been successful so far. Of course, everyone's moving pretty quick during a pandemic. One of the things on both programs that we're really focused on is seeing how it works and then making adjustments to the program as it goes along, right? I think being intellectually flexible is pretty important at this stage.
So here's some of the criteria: You have to be a tenant with a current active lease where back rent is owed. You have to be able to demonstrate financial hardship due to COVID-19, like a loss of employment, reduction wages, reduction in hours. You have to have a gross annual housing income that is at or below 120% of the area median income. So just roughly, if you're in Washoe County, living by yourself, that's about $67,000 a year. If they've got three people under one roof, that's about $86,000. The reason we did that is we wanted to make sure that it was broader.
This recession, unlike a lot of other recessions, is actually hitting everyone, right? It's hitting people at different income levels, as opposed to some recessions, which are really focused toward the neediest among us. This is hitting everybody. The layoffs are happening at all levels. You need to not be receiving federal voucher housing assistance. So, we're not double-dipping or violating the tenants of an existing program.
[Also] you have to have liquid household reserves of under $3,000. One of the questions that we get a lot is, “well, isn't this going to help people who just haven't paid their rent while they've been socking away their unemployment money?” First off, we don't think that's happening a lot. That's a canard. It's a red herring. But to the extent that someone is, that would prevent them from getting access to the program. This is for people who really need help.
Boger: I’m curious, is this one-time money, or will the program continue offering assistance until the end of the pandemic?
Conine: So in this first stage of renter relief, the intention is for it to be a catch-up. We're taking that three-month period of the eviction moratorium. If people have back rent, we're trying to get that back rent paid so they can end up in an even position. I think the federal government is looking at a number of different rental assistance programs going forward. We support those in our federal delegation and trying to get additional monies into the state to help with this problem because it is a significant one.
Boger: Is there any plan to set up a state-funded program in the near future, or will the state mostly rely on federal dollars?
Conine: I think the support's going to be primarily federal, right? We're making very, very difficult budget decisions at the state level. General fund dollars can be used to fund all sorts of things. We're really focused on some of these more restricted dollars and trying to make sure that we can get them out and get them into people's hands. At the same point, in the next round of stimulus funding, which hopefully happens, we believe there should be a rental and mortgage assistance component. And the processes and procedures we're developing now for the first $30 million will allow us to get any future monies on the street much, much quicker.