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Howard residents affected by COVID pandemic can now apply for rental, mortgage assistance through county programs

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball on Thursday announced applications are now open for residents to receive rental relief and utility assistance from the $9.7 million in grant funding Howard was awarded from the U.S. Department of Treasury in January.

Through the program, residents affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic can receive rental and utility assistance for up to 12 months regardless of previous grant assistance they have received.

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The funding will be distributed through four nonprofits: $2.35 million through Community Action Council — Howard County, $1 million through Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network, $1 million through Grassroots and $200,000 through Springboard Community Services.

At Thursday’s news conference outside the Nonprofit Collaborative in Columbia, Ball illustrated the toll the pandemic has taken on residents, particularly renters. More than 55,000 Howard residents have lost jobs or sources of income due to the pandemic, he said.

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“Too many of our residents were faced with impossible choices of how to pay their rent or their mortgage, feed their families or how to just heat their homes,” Ball said.

The statewide eviction moratorium that is set expire at the end of March has delayed but not erased the problem for some of the 23,000 renters in Howard, he said. Rental delinquency affects an estimated one in four renters in the county, according to Ball.

The Department of Housing and Community Development applied for the grant Jan. 12 a few days after the Treasury Department posted the funding opportunity. By Jan. 21, the county was notified it had received grant funding. Kelly Cimino, the department’s director, said she hadn’t seen such a quick turnaround time before.

Cimino said the Treasury Department grant has fewer restrictions than many other grant opportunities. To qualify, renters must earn less than 80% of the county’s average median income, which would be $94,184 for a family of four or $75,347 for a family of two. The loss of income must also be related to the pandemic.

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In most grant applications, according to Cimino, the department is asked to justify its need with a long narrative. That was not the case this time, she said.

The grant was awarded based on the percentage of the county’s population in comparison to state population. Cimino said the department did not know how much money the Treasury Department would award the county until the grant was approved.

Any jurisdiction of 200,000 residents or more was able to apply for the grant; for those jurisdictions with less than 200,000, the state would get the money and then allocate it to those counties, according to Sameer Sidh, Ball’s chief of staff.

When the Department of Housing and Community Development was awarded $1.6 million in federal CARES Act money last year, the department helped 365 households in Howard. Each household received $4,500 in rental assistance for either three or six months, according to Cimino.

She estimates that, with the Treasury Department grant, the county will be able to help around 400 households for every $2 million it received.

On Thursday, Ball also announced the formation of a new mortgage assistance program. The county is allocating $1.4 million for residents who are unable to pay their mortgages because of COVID-19. Those with pending or approved forbearance plans with their mortgage lender are eligible to apply for assistance.

“While we have focused on providing rental assistance over the last year, we realize many homeowners have also been struggling to make their mortgage payments during this time,” Cimino said. “With the moratorium on foreclosures expiring at the end of the month, we are taking action now to help homeowners pay past-due mortgage payments, so they can retain the equity in their homes and avoid foreclosure.”

Those interested in applying for the rental, utility or mortgage assistance should to go howardcountymd.gov/Departments/Housing-and-Community-Development/COVID-19-Housing-Information.

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