With more than $2 million in CARES Act funds on the way for COVID-19 relief, City earmarks most for tenants in need
SOMERVILLE, MA – Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone today announced an additional $1.5 million in rental assistance for Somerville residents experiencing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding, which is provided by the federal CARES Act, will be distributed to local nonprofits to support rental assistance for low- and moderate-income households.
“The statewide moratorium on evictions is a good start, but we all know it’s not enough,” said Mayor Curtatone. “Many tenants will still owe back rent when the moratorium ends. Others will be struggling to reenter the workplace and will need rental assistance until they are able to stabilize financially. One of the rallying cries of this pandemic has been ‘stay home, save lives.’ But the reality is ‘stay home if you can afford it.’ Through no fault of their own, too many people are having to decide whether to pay rent or buy groceries. This pandemic has not impacted everyone equally. In Somerville, we’re doing everything we can to direct relief where our residents need it most.”
The City recently amended its 2019 Housing and Community Development Annual Action Plan in order to become eligible to receive more than $2 million in Supplemental Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funding made available through the CARES Act. As noted, $1.5 million will be allocated for rental assistance. The remaining funds will support other critical COVID-19 relief efforts, including healthcare services and food security programs.
“Paying rent in Somerville was always a burden to our most vulnerable populations, who already pay half their income on shelter. The COVID-19 pandemic made this difficult decision impossible for many people,” said City Council President Matt McLaughlin. “I’m proud to know Somerville is putting money behind our advocacy to get tenants as well as their landlords through these challenging times.”
Residents seeking rental assistance will be able to access the funds through partner nonprofit organizations. Per federal requirements, nonprofits interested in administering these funds will need to submit an application to the City. Further details about that process will be announced soon. Organizations awarded funds will then develop and implement their own applications for residents. Once nonprofits have been selected, an announcement will be made to the community on where and how to apply.
In the interim, tenants in need of emergency COVID-related assistance for unpaid rent, as well as homeowners currently in need of help with unpaid mortgage bills, can apply for assistance paying those bills through the Commonwealth’s RAFT program (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition). There are no immigration restrictions on receipt of RAFT benefits. Tenants and homeowners having difficulty accessing RAFT benefits can contact the City’s Office of Housing Stability at somervillema.gov/ohs to fill out a request for OHS assistance with those applications or call 617-625-6600 ext. 2581.
Tenants are also protected from evictions during the COVID-19 state of emergency in accordance with City and State legislation, but absent further action at the State level, any missed rent payments will still be due at the end of the moratorium.
This new funding for rental assistance is the latest of several financial supports the City has established during this pandemic. These include the Somerville Cares Fund (which has raised nearly $300,000 to date to help meet the basic needs of the City’s most vulnerable individuals and families), the $1 million Small Business COVID-19 Relief Fund, and the addition of $80,000 early during the crisis to the City-funded Rental Assistance Flex Fund administered by the Somerville Homeless Coalition.
“Approximately 65% of Somerville residents are renters, and most of the individuals who are experiencing severe economic hardship during this pandemic pay rent for their housing. Some are not eligible for unemployment assistance or stimulus payments,” said Somerville Office of Housing Stability Director Ellen Shachter. “This makes for an incredibly anxious, uncertain time for too many people in our community. These funds will allow more people to stay in their homes, which is vitally important because housing security is crucial to containing this pandemic.”
For more information and regular COVID-19 updates, visit somervillema.gov/coronavirus and sign up for City alerts at somervillema.gov/Alerts. We urge you to sign up for every alert method you are able to receive: phone call, text, email. Also follow FB.com/SomervilleCity and @SomervilleCity.