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Community Resource Center is ready to help with application process

The Idaho Housing and Finance Association is helping struggling Idaho tenants pay past due rent and utility bills, and the Community Resource Center of Teton Valley is available to assist residents with the application process.

The Idaho Press reported last month that millions of dollars in emergency rental assistance has not yet been awarded; the state received $200 million in federal aid since January to cover rent and utilities for Idaho tenants, but had only paid out $20 million by August.

“It’s definitely underutilized,” said CRC executive director Betsy Hawkins about the IHFA program. “We’ve helped a number of families apply for this assistance but there are surely more who need it and could qualify. It’s been pretty amazing seeing people get three or four months of rent paid.”

To be eligible, an applicant must be an Idaho resident, meet the program’s income limits of 80 percent or below area median income, and be unable to pay rent or utilities because of a financial hardship related to the pandemic. Landlords can also apply on behalf of their tenants. At least one household member needs to have a social security number, which may rule out some undocumented families, Hawkins noted, but the CRC has its own quality of life funds for clients who are ineligible for federal aid.

“The application process is a little intensive and requires a fair amount of documentation,” Hawkins said. “If you’re not prepared for their follow-up communications, it can be easy to lose all your progress on an application.”

That’s where the CRC comes in, she added. She and other case managers can contact the IHFA on behalf of clients, help them put together the necessary information, or send email reminders to finish out the process.

“We’re happy to help,” Hawkins said. “If people aren’t sure they’re eligible, they can call or stop in for a quick consult.”

Unfortunately, she added, cash doesn’t do much if you can’t find a place to live at all. Clients who ask the CRC for assistance in finding housing far outnumber those looking for help with rent. The “in search of housing” form on the CRC’s website includes a question about why a person has been displaced, and Hawkins said that this summer 65 percent of respondents said that their landlord was selling their house or converting it to a vacation rental.

“I have attended so many meetings with so many people,” she said. “Concerned individuals, city councils, the housing authority, I’m serving on the housing crisis task force. There are so many ideas out there but almost none are quick—they require time and money and infrastructure and permitting. It’s not helping people stay housed right now.”

That’s one reason that emergency rental assistance is a key resource.

“People who have a good lease in hand, they’re our priority clients,” Hawkins said. “We let them know about rental assistance because we need to keep people housed. It’s slim pickings out there, and what is on the market costs literally twice what it did five years ago. And I know our wages haven’t doubled in five years.”

The demand for immediate assistance has slowed down slightly at the CRC office, which gives staff more time to do follow-ups with clients and dive deeper into the long-term issues that cause crisis in households.

“Last year was a blur, to be honest,” Hawkins said. “We were providing much needed services during Covid, but we were a Band-Aid, and we don’t want to continue being a Band-Aid, we want to help people keep their heads above water in the long run.”

That means hiring another bilingual client services representative, and providing financial literacy education and other offerings in the future.

“We really want to serve more of the community than just people who are truly destitute—there’s lots of resources available for those people who are still struggling to get by here because of the high cost of living,” Hawkins said. “If you’re a parent who’s in that gray area that has to decide whether to buy your child new shoes for back to school or spend another $50 on groceries, we can help.”

For a full list of the CRC’s programs visit crctv.org, stop by the office in the Teton Business and Education Center north of Driggs, or call (208) 354-0870.