David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com

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Judge Amy Mikell presides over an eviction case in North Charleston in 2020. Congress last year approved $25 billion in assistance to aid renters whose finances were affected by COVID-19. The funds will become available in most South Carolina counties the week of May 3. File/Gavin McIntyre/Staff

It would be hard to overstate the significance of $272 million in federal rent and utility assistance becoming available in 39 South Carolina counties.

That's a tremendous amount of money, and applications will open up the week of May 3.

The funds will help countless Palmetto State residents who suffered due to the COVID-driven recession to avoid evictions and utility shut-offs. Nationwide, there's $25 billion in assistance, which was approved by Congress in December 2020.

It will help struggling tenants, but also utility companies, and it could be a lifeline for landlords, who have taxes and mortgages to pay.

The money can cover unpaid rent and utility bills back to mid-March 2020, and while tenants must apply, the payments will go directly to their landlords and utility providers.

In the state's seven largest counties, the federal funds became available earlier, because counties with at least 200,000 residents got the money directly and rolled out programs sooner than the state. Counties that have been directly distributing the federal funds are Anderson, Berkeley, Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Richland and Spartanburg.

Renters and landlords in the remaining 39 counties have been waiting, and some time this week SC Housing, or the South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority, will begin taking applications.

I previously reported that this money would be coming. Now that applications are about to open up, here's a recap of who is eligible and how to get assistance.

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Renters must apply in order to get assistance. They're eligible if at least one person living in the household meets all of these criteria:

  • Qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced a financial hardship because of COVID-19.
  • Demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability, such as a risk of being evicted.
  • Has a household income at or below 80 percent of county median income adjusted by family size.

Median income varies by county. Statewide, 80 percent of median income for a single person ranges from $29,350 to $46,800, and for a family of four ranges from $41,900 to $66,800.

When applications open up in the coming days, SC Housing says applicants will need:

  • Pictures or scans of a photo identification.
  • A copy or photo of their signed lease, or proof of rent payments if a signed lease is not available.
  • The first two pages of a 2020 federal tax return, or pay stub from the last 60 days. 
  • Proof of financial hardship, such as: proof of unemployment from the South Carolina Department of Employment of Workforce, including website screenshots or confirmation letters from DEW; proof of lost wages, such as a layoff notice, an unemployment letter, or proof of business closure; proof of risk of housing loss or experiencing homelessness, such as an eviction notice or a past due notice for rent or utilities.

The requirements boil down to proving who you are and that you're a renter, and demonstrating your income and financial hardship.

This information is also available online at schousing.com. They are calling the initiative SC Stay Plus, because it's much larger than an earlier program called SC Stay that was quickly exhausted.

SC Housing plans to open a call center the week of May 3. Meanwhile, the authority's main phone number is 803-896-9001.

Reach David Slade at dslade@postandcourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.