Idaho loses millions in federal emergency rent assistance

Julian Arreguin Vega of Boise holds a sign during a protest in January.

Julian Arreguin Vega of Boise holds a sign during a protest in January.

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For the second time this year, Boise and Ada County have received millions in emergency rent assistance funds from the U.S. Treasury Department, and the city has approved another $6.5 million for help tenants.

But local dollars pale in comparison to the amount of federal money that hasn’t been used by the state: The US Treasury clawed back $63.6 million in Idaho’s rental assistance funds.

A total of $23.8 million has now returned to the state at the local level through reallocation, according to the latest data. And that reallocation mostly benefited one place — 98% of federal rental assistance went to Ada County.

The state received about $176 million in federal assistance in February 2021 through a COVID-19 economic relief package that was passed under President Donald Trump’s administration. The money was intended to help struggling tenants.

Idaho was one of 13 states that then involuntarily clawed back unused federal aid from the U.S. Treasury Department due to funds not being used, and its total of $63.6 million was higher than that of all other states except one. South Dakota recovered $79.5 million.

The Treasury reallocated this money to local governments across the country. The most recent reallocation, in March, granted $7.2 million to Boise and $5.3 million to Ada County.

In the first round of reallocation, which took place in January, Boise got $7.2 million and Ada County got $3.6 million.

The only other Idaho agency to receive reallocated emergency rent assistance was the Nez Perce Tribal Housing Authority in Lapwai, which received $500,000.

On Tuesday, the Boise City Council approved $6.5 million to be paid to the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority, which will distribute it to tenants who apply for assistance.

The city still has about $9.7 million in federal rent assistance — that includes money that came before Treasury reallocations — that the board has yet to approve for use.

Through the organization Emergency Rental Assistance Program, assistance will be given to those experiencing sudden financial hardship, housing instability, loss of income or who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has set up a application portal on its website.

To qualify, household income must not exceed 80% of the median for the area, which is classified as low income. According to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association chartlow income in Boise applies to a one-person household earning $42,200 or less, a two-person household earning $48,200 or less, or a three-person household earning $54,250 or less.

The assistance, for up to 15 months, is sent directly to homeowners and utility companies.

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said the city has already used $15 million in federal rental assistance to help more than 3,200 households.

“These are not numbers, these are families of workers who have been able to stay at home. Now we can do even more,” McLean said in a press release. “As we come out of this pandemic, people still need help with their rent.”

The U.S. Treasury Department has announced plans to begin recovering “excess funds” from rental assistance provided under another COVID-19 relief program, President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.

Idaho originally received $124 million in ARPA rent assistance, according to Benjamin Cushman, communications coordinator for the Idaho Housing and Finance Association. Idaho received the first $50 million of that amount, but must meet “spending thresholds” to receive the rest, Cushman said.

In March, the Idaho Legislature authorized Idaho Housing and Finance to distribute $38 million of that $50 million beginning July 1, and the state indicated its willingness to work directly with Boise and the county of ‘Adah. Idaho has asked the US Treasury to approve a voluntary transfer of $16 million from the state fund to the city and county, according to Cushman.

“I want the public to understand that we are doing everything within our control and sphere of influence to ensure that as many emergency rent assistance dollars as possible stay in this state,” said Maureen Brewer, Boise real estate development manager, to the Idaho statesman in a telephone interview.

Reporter Sally Krutzig covers local government, growth and breaking news for the Idaho statesman. She previously covered the Idaho State Legislature for the Post Register.

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