CBS4 Investigates months of unanswered calls to Indy rental assistance

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INDIANAPOLIS — Some Indianapolis renters facing eviction reached out to CBS4 Investigates when they could not get anyone with the city to return their calls.

The program has helped more than 31,400 Marion County households since its launch in July 2020 and distributed more than $73 million. Yet, the city admits there is room for improvement when it comes to evaluating applications.

“I left emergency voicemail messages,” Korrine Clayton, Indy tenant, explained. “You can mark it urgent. Never heard back. Then I started emailing. Never heard back.”

This has been Clayton’s relationship with the Indy rental program for months. After successfully submitting her application on May 15, she heard from IndyRent once between then and August 27.

“I was so excited I finally got somebody in an email,” Clayton said. “She said that my application didn’t exist, and I said ‘yes it did.’ Then, she pulled it up through my phone number and she said, ‘oh yeah, you’re correct, it was May 15 and well, your apartment complex didn’t do their part.'”

Clayton showed us messages indicating her manager did complete the application or thought she did. Still, the manager submitted it again. Clayton waited more than 30 days to reach out again.

“Didn’t bother calling anymore; they’re not going to answer the phone,” Clayton said.

Clayton spoke to CBS4 Investigates on November 8. The next day, we spoke to Cristin Suggs, after she spent 10 days calling the rental assistance program.

“I’ve been calling every day since then and no one’s answering the phone, it’s like it just goes straight to voicemail after some time,” Suggs explained.

Unlike Clayton, Suggs did receive the first round of assistance after applying in May, and was invited to request more in October.

“How do you have that message there and then no one on the other end to answer questions,” Suggs explained. “I don’t have the means for money. I don’t, I don’t have the money to pay for rent right now, and if I did, I definitely wouldn’t be asking for the assistance.”

We got ahold of the deputy mayor over the rental program, and explained Suggs needed to make a slight change to her application ID by adding a “-2.” That finally allowed her to submit her request, but she could not get ahold of anyone to tell her that until we got involved.

“It is frustrating because we’re in a situation where we absolutely need the funding right now,” Suggs said. “I have six kids. I can’t just pick up my house and move.”

Bennett said the city’s rental assistance program gives out $5.5 million each month. For Clayton’s case, he immediately looked into it once we called.

“We are always striving to respond,” Bennett explained. “I think in this particular client’s case, it’s one that looks like it did fall through the cracks for probably a couple of reasons.”

Bennett said they have between 85 and 95 staff members reviewing applications, and now 8 other answering calls and emails. But, it is not enough to handle the volume of messages.

“We’re sensitive to those who’ve had trouble in the past or have trouble with the application process, so we’re in a constant state of review and evolution of that program to continue to make it as easy as possible,” Bennett said.

Since interviewing Clayton and the city, Clayton received rental assistance. Suggs’ application for assistance is still under review, and Bennett said it will likely be resolved in the coming days.

Here are the sources of funds the City of Indianapolis has used so far:

CARES Act (Coronavirus Relief Fund, 2020): $33.8 million (spent July 13 – Dec 31, 2020), 15,949 households assisted

CARES Act II (Emergency Rental Assistance fund, 2021): $28.9 million in direct funding to the City of Indianapolis (spent April 5, 2021 – October 1, 2021)

CARES Act II (Emergency Rental Assistance fund, 2021): $91.4 million (state grant to supplement and expand the program) – approximately $10.4 million spent so far which leaves about $81 million remaining. State funds must be spent by September 30, 2022.

The city also provided more information on the Indy Rents program which can be viewed in the pdf below:

For eligible tenants requesting additional funds:

One of the most important aspects of the funding from the state is that it allows us to invite back households who’ve received assistance in 2021 so that they may request additional assistance—since they were originally limited to receiving a maximum of only three months of assistance. They will be invited back by email, based on the month they were originally approved for assistance. On Nov 11, households originally approved in July 2021 will be invited back.

Applicants who are invited back via email and given a link to click in that email, should enter their original application ID and click the link. Bennett said clicking the link is the easiest way to reapply.

Applicants may also click the ‘check your eligibility’ button on the Indy Rent homepage and enter their original application ID. (Applicants should not click the ‘continue a 2021 application’ button.)

If a tenant does not complete their application on the first visit back, they can come back later, still using the link in the email or the ‘check your eligibility’ button. But, they will need to add a “-2” to their original application ID.

So an application ID that was originally 1234ABCD would be entered 1234ABCD-2 any time after that first visit to request additional help.

New applicants:

Tenants who have not completed an application for assistance in 2021 may request a full 12-months of assistance at the time of application.

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