Since 2020, the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) and a broad coalition of community organizations have distributed $318.5 million in payments to thousands of households across King County as part of the Eviction Prevention and Rent Assistance Program (EPRAP). The size and growth of this emergency response is unprecedented within DCHS. The EPRAP program did not exist before the pandemic and now works with 70 agencies and more than 500 users and has processed more than 45,000 applications. The only comparably sized effort within DCHS’s responsibility is the Medicaid-funded behavioral health system. DCHS’s ability to increase the rate of rent assistance accelerated considerably in Fall 2021 as increased staffing and new federal guidance allowed important improvements to the program, including the introduction of self-attestation for both landlords and tenants to speed determinations of eligibility.
We remain committed to providing timely data on EPRAP’s performance through our dashboard. As of today, 3,614 households are assigned a provider to complete their application and determine eligibility. Another 7,831 households have pre-registered but are not yet assigned a provider. With $37.1 million remaining in rent assistance funding, we expect to serve roughly 4,500 more households. The likelihood is high that some households who applied for funding will not receive assistance before we exhaust the funds available to us.
One way to ensure we help as many eligible households as possible, is to identify instances of inappropriate payment of rent assistance so that we can recover those funds and redistribute them to as eligible applicants. Inappropriate payments can happen for any number of reasons, including mistakes, falsified applications, or identity theft. In our previous EPRAP update, we shared with you that 106 potential cases were identified by DCHS and community provider staff. Over the last three weeks that number has risen to 130 potential cases.
To date, the scale of potential inappropriate payments is:
- 2 percent of paid landlords
- .08 percent of rent assistance funds distributed to date
- 30 cases were identified before a payment was made
- $600,000 in payments were successfully cancelled or recouped
While all cases of inappropriate payment are a serious matter, less than one percent of distributed payments fall in this category, in large part because of the systems set up from the beginning to identify fraudulent activity. In July of 2021, ahead of launching the EPRAP data system, DCHS hired CliftonLarsonAllen to perform an internal controls assessment which includes reviewed of the fraud prevention and account validation measures in place with U.S. Bank.
Our methods to address these cases include partnering with local jurisdictions to manage specific cases and protect people’s identities, reviewing payments internally and through a third-party auditor, and ensuring that individual processing rent payments complete some of the best practices to spot cases of inappropriate payment.
Of the 130 cases identified to date, the cases range from identity theft (14%), potential misrepresentation in the tenant or landlord leasing documents (60%), or were flagged by a financial Institution Fraud Department or third-party report (26%).
DCHS is working to recoup as much funding as possible so we can serve as many of the 7,831 tenants in the system that have been financially impacted and at risk of housing instability due to COVID. Additional efforts include final reconciliation of all payment records to landlords, as contracts close out shifting unexpended funding to rent assistance and continuing to provide eviction prevention supports.
With the end to the eviction moratoriums, we are seeing an increase in tenants utilizing the eviction prevention part of the EPRAP program. Since the eviction moratorium ended in Seattle, $2.8 million in rent assistance was distributed by Housing Justice Project to prevent households from eviction.
We will continue to provide updates as the remaining applicants are processed.