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Rent relief is available, but hardly anyone in York County completed the application

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
FILE - In this May 20, 2020, file photo, signs that read "No Job No Rent" hang from the windows of an apartment building during the coronavirus pandemic in Northwest Washington. The pandemic has shut housing courts and prompted authorities around the U.S. to initiate policies protecting renters from eviction. But not everyone is covered, and some landlords are turning to threats and harassment to force tenants out. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Officials are considering changes to the state Rent Relief Program after finding nearly all applications from York County were incomplete. 

About 97% of the 170 local applications submitted so far have been incomplete, said Katie Hershey, the Hanover coordinator and self-sufficiency coach for the Community Progress Council, which is managing the county's rent relief applications.

"We want to be able to move this process along to hand out money to the renters who desperately need it," she said. "We really are working hard now to get the word out proactively."

Part of the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rent Relief Program's application requires interested candidates to submit three forms — one filled out by the tenant and two filled out by the landlord. Additional documents — including the lease, pay stubs, proof of unemployment and proof of property ownership — must also be submitted.

Hershey cited several reasons for the high number of incomplete forms, such as applicants being unable to obtain pay stubs from former employers and an unwillingness to talk with their landlords.

"You cannot simply fill out the renter application and be good; you need to engage with your landlord," Hershey said. "Community Progress Council has really tried to clarify that for folks." 

Scott Elliott, a spokesperson for the PA Housing Finance Agency, which is the state administrator for the application, said the PHFA website several times has stressed that applicants need to fill out three forms. 

"Any time you have an application process, some people are just not going to read the instructions and quickly fill it out," he said. "I guess it's just human nature."

Elliott said his staff is considering adding text in a bold font to the first page of the renter application. 

"Almost on a daily basis we look at ways we can improve this process based on the feedback we've been getting from counties," he said. "I'm going to talk with the person heading up the program, and we're going to look at a way we can adjust the renters' application."

At least $1.4 million in rental assistance money has been provided to the Community Progress Council. This funding, allocated through the federal CARES Act, can provide up to $750 each month for a maximum of six months to qualifying York County residents.

Qualifying tenants must have experienced a reduction of income of at least 30% after March 1. 

Interested residents can apply for rent assistance by visiting Community Progress Council website.

A physical version of the application can be picked up in person from the Community Progress Council office, 226 E. College Ave., from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays.

Statewide, more than 4,000 applications have been submitted for rent relief, though Elliott said he isn't sure how many of those are incomplete since the counties don't send that data.

"We certainly don't want this to be a burden for counties, and if by adding some text on the application to make it clear that three applications are required, not one, that is something that we can easily do," he said. 

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.