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Housing advocates urge lawmakers to approve emergency rental assistance

Posted at 7:38 PM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 11:27:36-05

MAGIC VALLEY, Idaho — The Intermountain Fair Housing Council and the Idaho Asset Building Network, along with some other organizations, signed on to a letter sent to the Joint Finance and Appropriations committee urging them to quickly approve the remaining $164 million the state received for emergency rental assistance through a federal relief package.

They say if approved, the funding could provide Idahoans with a year of rent relief.

"For the last year, it has been our goal to make sure no Idahoan loses their home as a result of the coronavirus. These emergency rental assistance funds are one of the best ways we can work to achieve that," Kendra Knighten, with Idaho Asset Building Network and Idaho Voices for Children, said.

The organizations say housing has been an issue even before the pandemic, but now the pandemic has added an extra challenge to those facing homelessness.

"Daily, we're getting people from all over the state who need help with rental assistance, and usually they have some fair housing issue too. So they're facing discrimination, and on top of that, they have some eviction related issue. This rental assistance is a lifeline to people," Zoe Ann Olson, with Intermountain Fair Housing Council, said.

And the organizations say the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee has delayed the funds' allocations, but members of the committee say the funds have not been delayed. They just haven't received the money from the federal government, but now that they have the money, they plan to take action early next week.

The committee tells us the funds can take several days before they appear on Gov. Brad Little's desk, but if approved, the emergency rental assistance will help those with either backed up rent payments due to the pandemic or future rent payments.
Both the Intermountain Fair Housing Council and the Idaho Asset Building Network say this money would be crucial not only to renters but also to landlords.

"We speak a lot from the perspective of renters, but it's also important to note that emergency rental assistance is mutually beneficial for Idaho's renters and also for landlords in Idaho," Knighten said.

As of right now, Ada County is the only county that has received funding from the emergency rent assistance, and that's because it has a large enough population to apply for that assistance directly to the government.

"The balance of state, meaning the rest of the counties are really in desperate need of rental assistance," Olsen said.

In a phone call with Idaho News 6, Sen. Steve Bair said the state actually has $175 million, not $164 million, which, if approved, will be distributed in $10 million increments. Any money not used by September 30 will automatically go back to the treasury department.

If the funding gets approved, those needing rental assistance will need to fill out an application to have those funds sent directly to the landlord.

If you or someone you know needs housing assistance, you can visit the Intermountain Fair Housing Council's website or the Idaho Asset Building Network's website.