The CNMI received $10,400,669.30 for rental assistance and utility relief through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program under the recently enacted Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.
The program will be administered in the CNMI by the Office of Grants Management under the Office of the Governor.
The program aims to reduce evictions and to keep its citizens in stable homes, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately $400 million was made available to U.S. territories: $9.6 million for American Samoa, $33.6 million for Guam, $21.3 million for the U.S. Virgin Islands, and $325 million for Puerto Rico. The CNMI’s allotted amount was based on the 2019-2020 population estimates.
Eligible households may receive up to 12 months of assistance, plus an additional three months depending on the household’s circumstances. Payments to existing housing-related arrears, as far back as March 13, 2020, will be prioritized before consideration of any future rent payments. Once a household’s rental arrears are reduced, the CNMI may only commit to providing future assistance for up to three months at a time.
Households may reapply for additional assistance at the end of the three-month period and the overall time limit for assistance is not exceeded. Rental assistance provided to an eligible household should not be duplicative of any other federally funded rental assistance provided to such household.
According to statutory provisions, an eligible household is defined as a renter household in which at least one or more individuals meets the following criteria:
-Qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced a financial hardship due to COVID-19;
-Demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and
-Has a household income at or below 80% of the area median ($19,201; CNMI Department of Commerce; 2016 Household Income and Expenditures Survey)
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said his administration is working diligently to set up the necessary infrastructure to receive new clients, increase program accessibility, and quickly process eligible renter’s applications in an expedient manner.
“Our administration through our Grants Management team has been working to put the necessary resources in place, so that we can officially open the program in the next two weeks,” said Torres.
Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios expressed his gratitude for the federal assistance and highlighted the critical need for this important program. “This program is one of the largest grant subsidies to be awarded to the CNMI that will provide direct financial relief for renters and ultimately alleviate stress. Moreover, there will be significant economic benefit from this relief package as rental property owners will contribute to the CNMI’s business gross revenue tax,” said Palacios.
Grants administrator Epiphanio E. Cabrera Jr. noted that there will be certain programmatic and data collection requirements needed in order to comply with the award’s terms and conditions.
More information about this rental assistance will be announced upon the initiation of this new program’s office, which is expected to open in the next two weeks. A formal announcement will be made when the application period is open. (PR)