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Charleston County prepares to distribute $12.4 million in rent, utility assistance

housingcourt_3.jpg (copy)

Judge Amy Mikell speaks to a defendant in an eviction case inside the North Area 1 courtroom off Leeds Avenue in November 2020. File/Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Charleston County has $12.4 million in federal funds to help residents get caught up on their overdue rent and utility bills, and will start taking applications April 12.

The money will go to landlords and utility companies, but it's the renters who will have to apply for the funds — money that will help them avoid potential eviction or a utility shut-off.

The Charleston County Library will help with the application process by offering in-person assistance and access to computers and scanners at certain library branches and at public events throughout the county in April and May.

"We'll be providing one-on-one assistance by appointment starting at the libraries listed on the website," library spokeswoman Natalie Caula-Hauff said.

The website is charlestoncounty.org/erap.

Applications won't be accepted until April 12. The phone number, also starting Monday, is 855-452-5374, and calls will be accepted from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

The rent and utility assistance money follows an earlier round of CARES Act funding for rent, mortgage and utility help in Charleston County that closed at the end of March. On April 19, the county plans to open another CARES Act program for mortgage assistance.

All counties in South Carolina with 200,000 or more residents received federal money for the current round of rent and utility assistance under the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Nationwide, it's a $25 billion program.

Berkeley County received $6.89 million, but Dorchester County did not qualify due to its population.

Greenville, Richland, and Lexington counties already have assistance programs up and running.

The rental assistance will cover up to 12 months of rent or utilities accrued after March 13, 2020, for those who qualify and apply.

Here's an overview of who can get help in Charleston County. Applicants must:

  • Be renters in Charleston County, regardless of whether they live in unincorporated areas or in towns or cities within the county.
  • Have incomes no higher than 80 percent of the area median income, which varies by family size. For example, the limit is $46,000 for a single person, or $59,150 for a family of three.
  • Demonstrate housing instability, for example by providing a past-due rent notice, past-due utility notice, an eviction filing or utility shut-off notice.
  • Be eligible for unemployment benefits, or demonstrate financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic (at least one person in the household).
  • Provide a 2020 federal income tax return or documentation of the income of each household member.

Renters and landlords can file applications, according to the county, but the burden falls on the renter to provide the necessary documentation. Landlords will be required to waive any fees for late payments or eviction filings.

"Every effort will be made to let landlords know their tenants have applied," said county spokeswoman Kelsey Barlow.

There are limits on the amount of rent the program will pay, based on federal standards for fair-market rent. For example, someone renting a two-bedroom apartment or house would qualify for up to $1,448 per month, while a three-bedroom rental would qualify for up to $1,852 monthly.

"Many of our residents have lost jobs in the months since the pandemic began, and they are in danger of losing their homes," Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said. "We are grateful to have this funding to help them, and want to encourage those who qualify to apply starting next week."

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

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