PROVIDENCE, RI – Governor Dan McKee and RIHousing announced today that the RentReliefRI program has reached an important milestone, having surpassed the $100 million mark in rental and utility assistance funds distributed to 13,761 renter households. The federally-funded RentReliefRI program provides up to 18 months of financial assistance to eligible Rhode Island renters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Reaching this important milestone has been no small feat," said Governor McKee. "When I took office, our Administration made it a priority to accelerate the distribution of rent and utility relief funds to Rhode Islanders who needed it most. Together, we are committed to continuing our efforts to get these critically-needed funds into the hands of more Rhode Island renters with help of a strong team of community partners who have stepped up in a big way to make it happen."
Launched in March of last year, the program provides financial assistance to cover rent arrears, forward facing rent, utility arrears and certain other housing expenses. Funded via the U.S. Treasury, significant changes were made to the RentReliefRI program in the last quarter of 2021, resulting in dramatic increases in the number and amount of application approvals. Under the direction of Governor McKee, RIHousing worked with the Administration to speed up the application and review process and get RentReliefRI funds out the door to the Rhode Islanders who need it. This included the Governor's directive for RI Housing to make a bulk payment to National Grid to automatically cover $16 million in past-due Rhode Island utility bills.
"I worked hard to make these federal rent relief funds available to help Rhode Islanders facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I commend RIHousing for accelerating efforts to get these funds out the door to prevent evictions and keep people stably housed," said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, who helped include $200 million for Rhode Islanders through the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 as well as $152 million in additional ERA funding for Rhode Islanders in the American Rescue Plan Act.
The program has been helped via a network of partner agencies and support from elected officials and municipalities across the state to ensure Rhode Island renters and their landlords have the tools and information they need to apply for and receive assistance.
Eligible renter households must be at or below 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), which translates into roughly $69,200 annual income for a family of four in most parts of the State. Applicants may apply for help with paying for utilities even if they do not need help paying for rent and there is no monthly cap on eligible rent relief.
"There are no quick fixes to the challenges we face," said House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi. "I am excited to see the state reach this important milestone in the distribution of RentReliefRI program funds, but it remains critical that we continue in our efforts to ensure that Rhode Islanders still reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have the support and resources they need."
"As we begin a new year and look toward the future, it is important to mark this occasion and thank the teams of individuals and organizations who have been so instrumental in its success," said Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. "But more importantly, we celebrate the thousands of hard-working Rhode Islanders who have been helped by this program. These Rhode Island households can now look toward a brighter future for 2022 and beyond."
Of the $100 million in approved assistance, $75 million has been approved to cover rent, $22 million for utility arrearages, and almost $3 million for security deposits and other housing-related costs. The average assistance approved per household is $6,720. Recent changes to the program application requirements and review process have helped to streamline the approval process and get more funds out the door. Weekly funding approvals averaged $500,000 in June 2021, increasing to $2 million per week by August.
"RIHousing is grateful for the support and leadership we've received to meet this important milestone and ensuring these federal dollars are used to maintain housing stability for Rhode Island renters, while also helping rental property owners to meet their financial obligations," said Carol Ventura, Executive Director of RIHousing, the agency charged with administering the program. "We are committed to helping even more hard-hit renter households overcome the financial impacts of the pandemic and stay in their homes."
Available statewide, to date, the top 10 municipalities based on funding approvals are: Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Cranston, Central Falls, North Providence, West Warwick, Warwick, East Providence, and Johnston. Program data illustrates that of the approved applications, 70 percent of applicants represent minority populations and 69 percent are households earning less than 30 percent area median income (AMI), which translates into roughly $26,500 annual income for a family of four in most parts of the State.
Complete details and information on the status of program applications and funding approvals is available online at rihousing.com/rent-relief-ri-dashboard.