Increasing the speed of rental assistance

King County’s Eviction Prevention and Rent Assistance Program (EPRAP) is working urgently to increase payments to tenants and landlords across King County. Since January 2021, EPRAP has paid a total of $22.6M in rental assistance, serving 3,404 households. To increase the rate of payment, EPRAP is adding and adjusting staffing and quickly implementing new Treasury Department guidance announced last week that simplifies program requirements.

King County remains grateful to the coalition of community-based organizations and property owners that are working together to prevent homelessness for tens of thousands of residents throughout the region who are at risk of eviction due to COVID-19 related financial hardships.

DCHS will publish a weekly blog every Monday going forward with updated totals for rent assistance paid, number of households served, and important program updates.

First households stabilized through new program

More than 846 tenants have received rent assistance since mid-July through King County’s revamped EPRAP. The primary fund source for these payments is Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations funding approved by the King County Council. A total of $10.7 million has been paid directly to property owners on behalf of these tenants over the past several weeks. This is in addition to $11.9 million expended from January-June utilizing multiple state and county fund sources that assisted 2,558 households with rent payments while the County was building the new EPRAP program. 

The 2021 program activity and funding described above is in addition to the original rent assistance program in 2020 that served 9,073 people and spent $37.6 million.

Building a strong foundation to support the new and expanded program

King County expects a total amount of EPRAP funding in 2021 that is approximately eight times larger than what EPRAP expended in 2020. King County also estimates that the 2021 EPRAP program will assist as many as three to four times as many households as in 2020. Because the EPRAP program must help so many more residents and expend so much additional funding this year, it was necessary to create a new data system to manage the application and payment processes. The development of the data system proved especially complex and took longer than projected.

To augment the fledgling data system during this delay, County staff and community partners have utilized a temporary manual payment system in concert with United Way of King County to process payments while the data system moved through the development and testing phases. With the data system now functioning, County staff are training tenants, landlords, and community-based agencies participating in the program on how to enter the necessary information into the system. County staff then review and approve payments directly to landlords, facilitated through a new agreement with US Bank that allows for expedited payments.

Changes at the federal level will streamline processing

In response to nationwide challenges to quickly dispersing rental assistance funds, the U.S. Department of Treasury last week announced changes to federal requirements that will help to smooth out some of the biggest snags to getting funding out the door. In addition to increasing staff assigned to the EPRAP team, King County is focusing on rapid assessment and implementation of two changes to quickly increase the rate of payment in the EPRAP program. King County’s upcoming EPRAP blogs will provide updates on implementation of these changes in the Treasury guidance:

  • Tenants may now self-attest to income, housing instability and financial impacts due to COVID-19, with the potential to streamline both the application and approval process that have previously slowed down payments.
  • Rent assistance programs like EPRAP may now also be able to advance assistance to property owners and landlords based on estimated eligible arrears, making it possible to provide a portion of the estimated bulk payment due to large landlords in anticipation of full satisfaction of the application and documentation requirements.

In exchange for the rental payments, participating landlords agree to waive any additional back rent that may be owed, agree to assess no new late fees or additional changes during the months covered, and agree not to raise the rent for at least six months after the payment period ends. For many tenants that means no rent increases before summer 2022. These stipulations do not eliminate the landlord’s right to proceed to evict tenants where just cause exists. Both landlord and tenant must agree to participate in the program.

Households throughout King County whose income is at or below 50% of the area median, and have fallen behind in rent due to unemployment, lost wages or health crises due to the COVID-19 pandemic are encouraged to apply.

To date, over 17,484 households have applied for rental assistance and 3,923 of those households are currently working with a community-based organization to receive rent assistance. The 846 households served to date have come from all three of the EPRAP programs: the individual Tenant Program, the Hub and Spoke community program, and the Landlord Program. All three programs are represented in the pool of households currently being processed.  

King County anticipates achieving full operation of the data, payment and reporting system by mid-late September, processing approximately $6 million weekly. The County must report to the State of Washington Department of Commerce when the program is fully operational.