DC still trying to improve rent help program

D.C. is still trying to get pandemic relief money out the door to help residents pay their rent through Stay D.C.

Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio told D.C. Council members on a conference call Friday that so far, about $34 million has gone out in rental assistance, and about $1.5 million in help paying utilities.

The Stay D.C. program launched in April with $350 million in funding for residents who need it. That means just about 10% of the money has actually gone out.

Falcicchio told the council that they’re working to improve the process. As part of the improvement plan, he said they’re bringing on 50 new case managers.

“And so far 39 have started as of this week, with 11 more to be added in the coming days,” Falcicchio said.

So far, about 4,600 applications have been approved and 26,000 have been received, with about 1,000 being approved each week, according to Falcicchio.

After being asked about the particulars of the numbers by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Falcicchio clarified that while the city received 26,000 applications, the real number could be as little as half that, because tenants and landlords can each fill out applications for the same housing unit.

Mendelson said increasing the uptake of the program is a “concern.”

“We need to get 60% of the dollars obligated by Sept. 30. And so I’m interested in seeing how we’re gonna get there,” Mendelson said.

Bowser had previously said the issue isn’t just with rent, but also utility payments, and they didn’t want people to wait.

“Because there could be a crush. The government has to get a certain amount of the dollars out by Sept. 30,” she said.

Funding for the program comes from the December Congressional Appropriations Act. D.C.’s share of the allocation is $200 million — the minimum amount states can get.

The American Rescue Plan Act makes an additional $21.5 billion available, with the District’s share of the allocation at $152 million, so a total of $352 million is available for STAY DC and related efforts, according to a news release.

Vaccine incentives

D.C. is also having issues getting its $51 vaccination gift cards moving.

To date, the city has given out 807 cards, according to City Administrator Kevin Donahue.

“That’s a total of $41,000,” Council member Charles Allen said. “We appropriated $4 million for this $51 gift card idea. Again, I don’t doubt that it’s going to reach some people. And it might move the needle for some. But that’s not a huge number.”

Allen said he wants to have conversations about how to best use the money appropriated for the incentives.

“I think [about] door-to-door outreach, community-based organizations, other ways that we can really get out there and reach hard-to-reach folks, because I don’t know if 807 is where we want to be at,” Allen said.

Donahue said misinformation about the vaccines was a major hurdle that was making education “a very slow process.”

He added, “Those outreach workers that I’ve spent time with would spend 20 minutes with one person trying to rollback untruths.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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