New rental assistance program provides millions in federal funds to renters, landlords in Winnebago County

ROCKFORD (WREX) — In just days, Illinois’ eviction moratorium is set to expire, but Winnebago County got federal funds to help landlords and tenants with rental assistance.

On Monday night, the Rockford City Council met and one of the items up for discussion was an agreement for a new rental assistance program between the city and Winnebago County.

COVID-19 left many without work, meaning many renters haven’t been able to pay their landlords, and that’s what this program is for.

“It’s Rockford, it’s Winnebago, it’s Stephenson County — you can definitely see it’s all around us that we’re disproportionately affected by COVID and the pandemic so, we need the rent assistance,” Sarah Brinkman, the Executive Director at HomeStart, explains.

HomeStart was part of an earlier rental assistance program through the state last year that helped 760 households access information about rental assistance in just the three weeks the program ran.

But now, Winnebago County has received $8.3 million from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program to help people stay in their homes and landlords receive backed rent.
The county needed help doling out the money, so it made an agreement with Rockford, particularly the city’s Human Services Department.

“The money will be distributed throughout all of Winnebago County,” Anqunette Parham, the Executive Director of Rockford’s Human Services Department, explains. “The target is between 2,000 and 3,000 households.”

City officials and aldermen agree this program will benefit landlords as well as renters in a big way.

“I think it’s so important to help the residents that qualify for the program,” Ald. Kevin Frost says. “Instead of just having a stay on evictions, it will allow them to utilize these funds to pay their rent, to pay some of their utilities, which will continue to let them live at home.”

So, who will qualify?

“One or more individuals have to be unemployed or adversely affected by COVID, or they have to be at risk of housing instability, and the house or household income must be below 80 percent of the median area income,” David Rickert, Winnebago County’s Chief Financial Officer, explains.

Those who qualify can get up to 12 months of assistance, plus three additional months if necessary and if the grantee can prove they need it for housing stability.

Parham says the goal is to start the program by April 1, but that’s assuming it passes through the Winnebago County Board.

The Winnebago County Board’s Finance Committee will meet on March 4 and the full county board will meet March 11. The program would have to pass both before it can fully be approved.

The primary way to sign up will be online, but aldermen, particularly Ald. Venita Hervey, raised concerns about those without internet access. Parham says the city is still looking at ways to help and notify people in that situation.

“There is a requirement that 60 percent of the funds are expended by the end of September,” Parham says.

That means time is of the essence.