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INDIANAPOLIS — Officials with the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority announced Wednesday that applications are now being accepted for the Indiana Emergency Rental Assistance (IERA) program.

The program, funded by federal dollars from a massive COVID-19 relief package signed in December, will help renter households unable to pay their rent or utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Eligible renter households may receive up to 12 months of assistance,” said Jacob Sipe, executive director of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

The IERA includes assistance with forward-facing rent and rental arrears. Sipe said other assistance includes help with utilities, home energy and internet arrears.

The grant allows states and municipalities to assist renters with past due rent and utility bills beginning on April 1, 2020.

Sipe said an eligible household under the IERA program is defined by the U.S. Department of Treasury as a renter household, where 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
  • Has a household income at or below 80% of the area’s median income

During a press conference Wednesday, Sipe said the following examples are two, four and six person income limits for the state’s program:

  • 2-person household: $46,250
  • 4-person household: $57,850
  • 6-person household: $67,100

Brad Meadows, marketing and communications director for the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, said a major focal point of the state throughout the pandemic has been the idea of housing security to protect Hoosiers struggling financially, including those facing homelessness.

“The pandemic has made things a little more difficult, but we’ve continued to do our best to try and help as many people as we can,” he said, noting the state helped more than 25,000 households with rental assistance in 2020.

For more information or to apply for emergency rental assistance through the State of Indiana, you can follow this link.

Renters living in the following areas are not eligible to apply for assistance through the IERA program: Elkhart, Hamilton, Lake, Marion (Indianapolis), the City of Fort Wayne and St. Joseph County.

Those six municipalities received emergency rental assistance funding and will be administering their own programs. Eligible Hoosiers living in those areas and seeking assistance will need to apply through those programs directly.

Meadows said the U.S. Department of Treasury allowed states and municipalities with populations of 200,000 or more to apply for this funding.

As part of the $448 million rewarded to Indiana, funds were allocated to the six municipalities that applied, and the Dept. of Treasury determined how much funding went to each program.

Of those funds, Hamilton County received just over $10 million to support Hoosiers with COVID-19 relief assistance for rent and utilities, according to county officials.

The county announced its plans to begin accepting applications for the Hamilton County Emergency Rental Assistance Program on March 15 at 9 a.m. Funds will be administered until Dec. 31, 2021 or until all funds have been distributed.

In Marion County, individuals may need to wait a bit longer before filling out an application for emergency rental assistance.

Meadows said it has been a sprint by the state and municipalities to get up to speed on the federal guidelines for emergency rental assistance.

“This is a brand new program, so while funding was approved in late December, the U.S. Department of Treasury still had to establish program guidelines and share those.”

According to Meadows, additional guidance was just issued several weeks ago on program policies.

“It is our understanding that each of these municipalities are planning to accept applications very soon, if they’ve not already started to do so.”

Through the IndyRent Assistance Portal, Marion County residents will be able to submit their application soon, but no specific date has been announced. A spokesperson with the city of Indianapolis told CBS4 they expect to open the program for applications over the next few weeks.

Residents are also being encouraged to visit the rental assistance portal and register to be on the waitlist. When applications open, a spokesperson for the city said those on the waitlist will be prioritized in having their applications reviewed.

The county said there were adjustments to the federal requirements, which altered their timeline to roll out the application process.

Chase Haller, a staff attorney and the director of Housing and Consumer Justice at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, said they are still seeing a significant volume of people calling to ask for direction on topics related to rental assistance and eviction.

“We’re getting anywhere from 80 to 100 calls a week on our extension 5 line, which is our housing intake line,” said Haller.

“Certainly the volume of people calling us, asking for that type of direction is higher than it usually is right now,” he explained. “What we’re basically doing is when we’re finding those cases come through at intake, we’re kind of putting them in a queue until we have more information, particularly in the Marion County rental assistance program.

“It all points back to the fact that the initial CARES Act allocations for rental assistance weren’t good enough. That’s the bottom line.”

Both the State of Indiana and Indianapolis spent all previous federal money dedicated to rental assistance by December. A spokesperson with the City of Indianapolis said they overspent what was initially allocated to provide additional help to Marion County residents.

Some Marion County residents told CBS4 they were frustrated with the delay in starting up the new emergency rental assistance program in the county.

“The frustration is warranted, but it’s very much a matter of timing and also that the organizations handling these moneys are dealing with programs they’re having to re-establish that have been shut down,” Haller said.

“It’s a city,” said Haller, “it’s a lot for them to figure out and make sure that they have everything in line to reach out to who needs assistance the most.”

Thousands of Hoosiers could face eviction once the federal eviction moratorium expires at the end of March. Haller explained what you should know as a tenant about evictions and your rights.

“Your landlord can’t evict you without a court order. We certainly get a lot of calls where, landlords I get are feeling frustrated also not being paid, sometimes for many months, but they can’t lock you out of your property, they can’t shut off your utilities,” explained Haller.

If those things happen, Haller said you should file a case in small claims court immediately or call the health department for an inspection.

He said people should see if they qualify for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) moratorium protection as well. The Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic has a self-help site you can visit by clicking here, and it will screen you for the protection and create the declaration to send your landlord.

You can send the declaration by email, or if you are a Marion County resident, it will be sent via mail to your landlord. Haller said it entitles you to protection under the CDC’s moratorium.

“The money that the state and cities are getting right now is just from the second round of CARES Act funding from December,” said Haller.

“With the American Rescue Plan now passed, there’s gonna be another $26 billion in rental assistance, so the State of Indiana will get another large sum of money in rental assistance,” he said.