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New D.C. Rental Aid Program Designed for Struggling Tenants

For financially-strapped District residents, including those facing eviction, help is available, thanks to the D.C. government and Biden administration.

On April 12, Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled the Stronger Together by Assisting You (STAYDC) program, a federally-funded $350 million rent and utility assistance initiative to assist residents in staying in their homes and avoid cutoff of utilities during the pandemic.

STAYDC replaces the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program and augments the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program.

According to the mayor, economic recovery starts with an assurance that District residents have housing security.

Bowser said. “This is about getting Washingtonians the money they need to pay their bills now so that they can stay in their homes once the public health emergency ends. We are grateful the Biden administration recognizes the need for this investment and delivered on providing the resources necessary to address unprecedented levels of housing instability.”

STAYDC officials stress that the program is to be the District’s leading source of relief for those with housing challenges as tens of thousands of tenants are behind in their rents and could be subject to eviction 60 days after Bowser lifts the public health emergency.

STAYDC will provide money that can be used for residents to pay back rent dating from April 1, 2020, and to help those who qualify to pay forward rent, up to three months at a time. The program also provides money to prevent a shutoff of utilities including water, gas and electric power. Housing support will be available for up to 18 months per tenant.

Eligibility for the program includes annual income ceilings for a single-resident household of $57,650; a two-person household, $65,850; and for a family of four, $82,300. The eligibility cap is $108,650 for an eight-person household. Documentation needed includes information about the landlord, income and rental costs must be provided to the District government through either a phone call or online registration.

Applicants may call 833-4-STAYDC from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. Online applications, including a pre-eligibility checklist, are available at https://stay.dc.gov.

Parisa Norouzi, executive director of Empower DC, an organization that advocates on behalf of the District’s low-income residents, applauds the creation of STAYDC but worries the program “won’t fully meet the need that exists.”

“How will we ensure that the tenants most in need are informed of the program?” Norouzi said. “How will we ensure digital or literacy challenges won’t create application barriers? Advocates have already pointed out major issues with the program’s accessibility to non-English speakers. Will $350 million be enough for the estimated 40,000 renters in need of assistance? Finally, what resources will be made available to those who were behind on rent before the pandemic?”

Norouzi, noting over 30 percent of District renters cannot afford the city’s high-cost rents, called the program “a temporary fix” and spoke of the need for expanded rental assistance permanently.

“We have to expand income-based housing options, like public housing and vouchers, that provide a safety net when renters face declining incomes or otherwise can’t afford market rents. Keeping people in their homes has to be our top priority at all times—not just during the pandemic,” she said.

Nevertheless, D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large), who chairs the Committee on Housing and Executive Administration, encouraged residents to apply for the program, if they qualify.

“I am really concerned that tenants are not going to take advantage of this program,” Bonds said. “Those are federal funds that have been given to us and tenants need to take advantage of this money. These are taxpayer dollars.”

Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), a member of Bonds’ committee, agreed.

“We want residents to be patient as they fill out the application, whether it is by phone or on the internet,” Silverman said. “This is a great program to help people who have been hit hard by COVID-19. If there are any problems with filling out the application, people should get in touch with their council member to get it done.”

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