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Rent and mortgage relief available for Alaskans struggling to make payments

Homes in the Westpark development on Friday, May 15, 2020 in South Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

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One-time payments of up to $1,200, distributed by lottery, will soon be available to Alaskans struggling to make rent and mortgage payments because of pandemic-related income loss.

Aimed at preventing homelessness, the payments will come from a $10 million funding pot administered by Alaska Housing Finance Corp. The money stems from the federal CARES Act.

The application period opens June 15 and closes one minute before midnight June 26.

The AHFC expects the program to serve between 8,000 and 12,000 households.

To be eligible, an Alaska household must have lost income due to COVID-19 and be earning less than 80% of median income for their community. In Anchorage that would be less than about $78,000 per household, according to AHFC.

The lottery results will be announced one week after the program closes. Payments will be made directly to landlords or mortgage lenders and are targeted for the July 2020 billing cycle.

Each household is eligible for no more than $1,200. They must fill out a simple questionnaire with their name, address and certification of income loss.

The coronavirus pandemic and the associated business shutdowns have sent Alaska jobless claims through the roof. For the week ending May 23, 65,034 people filed for unemployment insurance in Alaska, including self-employed and gig workers. That’s a tenfold spike over what the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development would normally see this time of year, said state economist Lennon Weller.

AHFC has recently received nearly 970 applications for mortgage loan forbearance, meaning a temporary halt for payment obligations, said Stacy Barnes, director of government relations and public affairs.

The United Way of Anchorage’s 211 help line has seen a nearly 300% jump in calls since the pandemic began, with rental assistance the number one request.

Details about the lottery program are available at AlaskaHousingRelief.org.

“People are hurting right now. These funds will give them the support and hope they desperately need,” said Sue Brogan, United Way of Anchorage’s chief operating officer.

About 1,100 people in Anchorage are officially considered homeless, according to federal definition by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Statewide, the number is just over 2,000. But the actual number is thought to be many thousands higher. With COVID-19, the number of homeless in Alaska is expected to mount, according to service providers.

Keeping people in their homes is much cheaper than having them become homeless and then providing services to get them housed again.

“Our data shows that it’s better to keep Alaskans stably housed through prevention efforts both in terms of their mental and physical health but also as a cost-effective measure,” said Bryan Butcher, who heads AHFC.

Before the pandemic, almost 20,000 Alaska households were struggling to make rent and living paycheck to paycheck, many due to lack of affordable housing and rental units for people with limited income, said Jasmine Boyle with the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, citing data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Many of these households will be forced into homelessness unless action is taken during this critical time, she said.

“Prevention works. Creating a plan to help Alaskans who never expected to be facing eviction, foreclosure or homelessness to get back on their feet is a shared effort,” said Boyle.

The AHFC’s online program is easily accessible and should help, she said.

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