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Greenville County launches $15.8 million emergency rent and utility assistance program

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A for rent sign. Matthew Fortner/Staff

While some Upstate residents’ finances have barely been impacted by the force of the coronavirus pandemic, a stream of others remain on the brink.

Some are months behind on rent, electric and water bills. Others have lost jobs after they or a family member got COVID-19, or experienced a drop in income due to changing work or home situations.

The pandemic has compounded one crisis atop another for the most vulnerable and added financial pressure to some who did not previously face urgent need, said Bruce Forbes, special projects coordinator for SHARE, the nonprofit agency that provides a wide range or resources to low- and moderate-income residents in the Upstate.

“Some people lost their job because they got COVID, or they were told to shut down, or they had to take care of their children,” Forbes said.

Those are the people SHARE has been able to help through wave after wave of federal assistance to keep residents fed, in their homes and stable over the course of the last year. Now, Greenville County has launched its latest program to help residents who have been impacted financially by the pandemic pay for rent and utilities.

The county received $15.8 million from the federal government through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, the coronavirus relief bill that passed at the tail end of the Trump administration. The money specifically targets rent and utilities through the county-led Emergency Rental (and Utility) Assistance Program (ERAP).

The county will prioritize those under imminent threat of an eviction or to its lowest-income residents at or below 50 percent of the area’s median income (AMI), which is $37,450 for a four-person household. It will also offer rent and utility help to those at or below 80 percent AMI, which is $59,900 for a four-person household, according to federal guidelines on the funding.

Those in need must apply directly through a portal set up on the Greenville County website. Residents can call 211, the United Way’s emergency resource line, for assistance with the application process. Landlords can apply on behalf of their tenants but the tenants must sign off on the application, said County Administrator Joe Kernell.

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The county isn’t distributing the funds in-house like it did with its $91 million in CARES Act funds last year. Instead, it has contracted with Neighborly Software to assist in administering its share of the latest assistance, he said.

In the Upstate, Spartanburg and Anderson counties also received ERAP funds and will open their own application process soon, Forbes said.

Forbes said SHARE has seen many residents who have fallen months behind on bills and needed thousands of dollars to catch up. At times, the agency has written checks for up to $6,000 to cover past rent and bring residents current on bills, he said.

Residents must either have qualified for unemployment or experienced a loss of income due to the pandemic. They must also demonstrate housing instability with an eviction notice, utility shutoff notice, past due rent notice, past due utility notice, or any other evidence of unsafe or unhealthy living conditions, according to the county.

This program can’t be used for mortgage assistance.

Forbes said for many people it is the first time they have ever needed assistance.

“We really would like everybody to not become homeless," Forbes said. "The country came together and said, ‘Let’s keep people housed’ for a variety of different reasons and people need to reach out and trust that we’ll crank out the checks as quickly as we can,” Forbes said.

Follow Nathaniel Cary on Twitter at @nathanielcary

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