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State launches program to help struggling renters and their landlords

ADDISON COUNTY — With federal laws designed to keep people in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic due to expire next week, a new Vermont State Housing Authority (VSHA) program looks to support people who are falling behind on rent and landlords working with struggling tenants, by covering owed rent expenses. 
The Rental Housing Stabilization Program, which began accepting applications last week, has $25 million in rental assistance available.  
Funds are open to anyone struggling to stay housed, or support housing during the pandemic. To see if you are eligible visit vsha.org/rental-housing-stabilization-program. 
Elizabeth Ready, chief financial officer at John Graham Housing & Services in Vergennes, noted housing in Addison County is tight already. With the pandemic, her agency — which runs the John Graham Emergency Shelter and other housing support programs — is doing everything it can to support those who are struggling to keep their homes. 
“It’s been less safe for people to be in congregate settings because of COVID-19,” Ready said. “We want to see everyone housed this summer, before winter sets in. We are offering a number of different services, as is the state of Vermont, and I want people to know what is available for them.”
The federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act signed in March put a moratorium on evicting tenants from federally backed housing. But that provision expires July 25. Some renters will also face additional financial pressure once the federal unemployment payments — $600 a week — expire at the end of the month. Experts see this as a one-two punch that could result in more people facing eviction.
Ready stressed there was already a housing crisis locally without the burden of COVID. 
“We want to make sure that no one loses their home,” she said. “Right now, with so many people already struggling with homelessness, we want to make sure that people who are safely housed remain safely housed. We want to prevent homelessness. We want to prevent evictions.” 
Ready added: “Number one, we want all those who are out there and behind in rent to know that there is help available to pay off back-rent. They can contact John Graham Housing and Services and we will help walk them through the program.” 
In addition to renters, landlords can also benefit from the program funding, according to Ready. 
“If landlords are working with families who are struggling, we want to hear from them and show them that this program can support them too,” she said. 
Ready also mentioned people who may not have considered themselves to be eligible for aid services in the past should reach out to John Graham Housing & Services or other housing advocates to see if they might qualify. 
Jubilee McGill, John Graham Housing & Services’ COVID-19 coordinator, expects to see some new faces.
“People who may never have grappled with financial insecurity and who are finding themselves without means to pay rent or support tenants have this program as a way to get through this time,” she said.
McGill is available to walk both landlords and tenants through the application process. She is also available as a mediator to build better communication between tenants and landlords experiencing difficulties. 
“Although this program is covering non-payment of rent, there might be other issues between tenants and landlords, and I can talk about those issues and help make sure those issues don’t get in the way of someone having a home, or income.”  
John Graham Housing & Services at 69 Main St. in Vergennes is equipped with computers and Internet for anyone who may be facing barriers accessing information. 
McGill plans to host Zoom calls in the coming weeks to help landlords troubleshoot and work through the process. McGill can be reached via email at jubilee@johngrahamshelter.org.
“This program is set up to help anyone who needs support,” she said. “It is a way to get everyone through a really tough time.”

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