State officials are hustling to get ahead of a possible wave of home mortgage and rental delinquencies that could add to homelessness this summer.
On Monday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska Housing Finance Corp., the state housing corporation, announced a $10 million program provide assistance to Alaskans needing help on home mortgage or rental payments.
With support from the governor and the Legislature, $10 million of federal COVID-19 aid has been set aside use for homeless prevention for Alaskans who lost income due to COVID-19 and who without government assistance may otherwise lose housing to eviction or foreclosure.
“Our data shows that it’s better to keep Alaskans stably housed through (homeless) prevention efforts, both in terms of their mental and physical health, but also as a cost effective measure,” said Bryan Butcher, CEO/executive director of AHFC.
Once families are evicted and on the street it is more difficult, and expensive, to find housing for them, Butcher said. AHFC believes the money available can serve 8,000 to 10,000 households, he said.
A state-ordered moratorium on evictions ends at the end of June. Also, enhanced federal Unemployment Benefit Insurance, or UIC, payments made available to thousands of Alaskans laid off from jobs may end this summer. People who have used UCI to help keep current on mortages or rent may not be able to do so later this year, Butcher said.
Families in Alaska with households income less than 80 percent of the Area Median Income, and who have lost income as a result of COVID-19, will be eligible to apply for up to one month of rent or mortgage relief, AHFC said in its announcement.
Rent relief excludes utilities; mortgage relief includes principal and interest only. Each household is eligible for no more than $1,200. Funds would be for the portion of a rent or mortgage payment that cannot be met.
Area Median Income earning is the median income for a metropolitan area. Eighty percent of Area Median Income used by federal and state agencies as a maximum income to receive types of housing assistance. For the Anchorage area, maximum allowable income earned by all family members must be less than $77,840 per year to obtain relief under the new program.
Mortgage assistance does not need to be with an AHFC-backed loan. It can be on a mortgage with another institution backing home loans, said Stacy Barnes, spokesperson for AHFC. The state housing corporation currently backs about 16,000 home loans and is estimated to be serving about 20 percent of the Alaska home mortgage market.
The relief program can be used by renters also but for Alaskans renting AHFC-owned public housing or who are currently assisted with rent payment to private property owners, the housing corporation has other programs including one called “Safety Net,” Butcher said.
Applications for assistance will be taken beginning Monday morning, June 15 and will close at midnight, June 26. Applications will require the applicants’ name, primary residence address, and certification of loss of income. For those unable to access the online application, calling or texting ‘RELIEF’ to (833) 440-0420 will provide information on alternative,” ways of applying.
With the likelihoods that requests for assistance will exceed the funds available, at the closure of the application period AHFC will organize a lottery. Butcher said in an interview that lotteries for housing assistance have been used in the past by the state housing corporation and in this case would be more equitable than funds being distributed on a first come, first served system.
In rural communities, for example, limits on access to the internet would put people at a disadvantage compared with residents of urban communities that are served by well-developed telecommunications.
“AHFC’s lottery system is based on best practices in their public housing management and ensures that regardless of where Alaskans live, they’ll have equal access to this housing relief,” Butcher said.
“AHFC has developed a program that offers both rent and mortgage relief, and is intended to serve the greatest number of Alaskans as quickly as possible while also adhering to U.S. Treasury guidance and responsibly distributing funds to those in need,” AHFC said in its announcement.
In an interview, Butcher said an important advantage of a lottery is that it will allow AHFC to see who was unable to obtain assistance and to steer people to other avenues of help. For example, municipalities that are receiving block grants of federal COVID-19 relief money.
Those at the top of the lottery will be required to provide AHFC with information that verifies their identity, loss of income that occurred as a result of COVID-19, proof of monthly rent or payments that go toward mortgage principal and interest, and information about their landlord or mortgage servicer so payment can be made on the recipients’ behalf. Payment will be made to the landlord or servicer, AHFC said in its statement. More information is available at AlaskaHousingRelief.org or by calling or texting RELIEF or (833) 440-0420.