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Charleston County to pause rent assistance requests after issuing nearly all available funds

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Lawyers meet with clients before going into the courtroom to discuss eviction cases at the Lonnie Hamilton III Public Services Building on Nov. 25, 2020, in North Charleston. Charleston County will suspend new applications for rent assistance after Oct. 7, 2021, while awaiting more federal funding. File/Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Many state and local governments have struggled to put billions of dollars in federal rent assistance into the hands of landlords, but Charleston County has done so well that it will temporarily stop taking applications after Oct. 7.

The pause is meant to keep the number of renters applying for help from exceeding the money available. There's more federal money coming, and the county expects to resume taking applications later.

So far, the county has paid out $11.6 million in rent and utility assistance from the federal government and committed several million dollars more. The money goes directly to landlords and utility companies, but the tenants must apply for it.

“We aren’t shutting down the program," county spokeswoman Kelsey Barlow said. “We have obligated 95 percent of our current funds and have another $6 million coming, in the coming weeks, from the Treasury."

So far, the county said, more than 1,600 households have benefitted.

Charleston is among seven South Carolina counties with populations large enough to get federal funding directly. The S.C. State Housing Finance and Development Authority, known as SC Housing, received $271.8 million to help tenants in the remaining 39 counties.

While Charleston County has committed 95 percent of its funding so far, SC Housing has approved payments that amount to about 10 percent of its funding, $27.7 million.

Chris Winston, spokesman for SC Housing, said about 10,000 applications are being reviewed. Most of those were submitted after the federal eviction moratorium expired more than a month ago, he said.

In August, SC Housing reduced paperwork requirements and expanded outreach efforts, hoping to get more applicants and process applications more quickly. In some cases, renters were allowed to provide sworn statements rather than documents.

For SC Housing, call 800-476-0412. Residents of Anderson, Berkeley, Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Richland, and Spartanburg counties need to apply with their own county's program.

Thousands of applications have been rejected because they were submitted to the wrong county. In Charleston County, about 3,000 applications were rejected because they were submitted by residents of a different county, or were duplicates of existing applications, Barlow said.

Right now Charleston County has about 4,200 applications in progress, and another 3,300 that have been started but not completed.

The $45 billion federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program was aimed at preventing evictions during the pandemic, by helping people with modest incomes and pandemic-related hardships to get caught up on rent and utility payments.

States, counties and some large cities had to manage the applications and distributions, with varying levels of success. In many cases, as with SC Housing, applications for the assistance came nowhere close to the amount of money available, despite a clear need for help.

The U.S. Treasury Department, in guidance issued Oct. 4, said it plans to reallocate unspent funding to governments that had obligated at least 65 percent of their first-round funding by Sept. 30. Charleston County stands to benefit.

Charleston County was aggressive in its outreach efforts, with in-person assistance offered at libraries and a bilingual hotline to call. That hotline, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., is 855-452-5374.

Berkeley County's number for rental assistance is 843-377-8507. The county has so far paid or committed $4.4 million, has $6.4 million remaining, and continues to accept applications.

Dorchester County residents should call SC Housing, because that county did not directly receive federal funding.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

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