Tenants, landlords and utility companies in Lycoming County will have access to over $7.45 million in rental assistance funds for COVID-19 relief.
The funds were approved by the county commissioners on Tuesday and will be available for application through STEP Inc.
The county originally was excluded from receiving the funds after it was decided by the state that only counties with 200,000 residents or more would be eligible for the funds. Lycoming County has roughly 110,000 residents.
The state Department of Community and Economic Development filed an application on behalf of the rural counties to eventually secure the funds, according to Commissioner Scott Metzger.
Priority will be given first to individuals who are soon to be evicted or have their utilities turned off.
Eligible renters must be obligated to pay rent on a residential dwelling. STEP will confirm the following: 1) one or more individuals has qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced income reduction or other hardship directly or indirectly due to the COVID-19 outbreak; 2) one or more household members can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and 3) the household is at or below 80% of the area median income.
Priority will be given to households meeting the following criteria:1) income not exceeding 50% of the AMI, or $22,750 for a single person household; 2) one or more household members are unemployed as of the date of the application and have not been employed for the 90 days preceding that date; and 3) have not previously received duplicative federally funded rental assistance.
If the applications are approved, they will be distributed directly to the landlords or utilities, according to Jim Plankenhorn, president and CEO of STEP, Inc.
However, if the landlord chooses not to accept the funds, the money will be returned to the tenant. The commissioners expressed concern that if tenants receive the funds they may use them for something other than housing assistance, however it was stressed that this would be considered a crime of fraud.
Commissioner Tony Mussare added that if any landlords refuse the funds, the county should be notified of this by STEP Inc.
“We didn’t have any issues with that the first time around, but if we do, we will let you know,” Plankenhorn said.
He added that STEP has received 30 applications so far and 156 families were on the waiting list. STEP expects to assist as many as 1,200 households through the program.
Applications may be submitted here: www.stepcorp.org/lycorent and questions about the application can be directed to 570-601-9505.