JUNEAU — A panel of the Alaska Legislature voted Monday to accept up to $200 million in federal aid for renters affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will be some time before the money reaches Alaskans.
The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. will handle distribution in much of the state. The corporation declined an interview on Wednesday, saying it was still formulating plans to give out the money.
“The U.S. Treasury is establishing rules for the implementation of the program with more guidance issued just yesterday. We’re working now to understand the requirements and develop a plan that supports renters and gets money to landlords as soon as we’re able,” said Soren Johansson, AHFC’s public relations manager.
“More information about our plan will be updated on our Alaska Housing Relief website (AlaskaHousingRelief.com) starting next month,” he said.
“This is a pretty significant amount of funds,” said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage.
The money is 20 times the amount distributed by AHFC last year to renters and homeowners in a much smaller coronavirus aid program. This time around, only renters are eligible.
“That was a federal restriction that was put on it,” AHFC CEO and executive director Bryan Butcher said on Monday.
There were about 88,927 rented “housing units” in Alaska in 2019, said Department of Labor economist Rob Kreiger, citing a figure from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s just over 35% of all of the state’s condos, apartments and houses.
If the money were divided equally across the state, it would mean about $2,250 per rental unit.
The money will not be divided equally.
Congress passed — and former President Donald Trump signed — legislation in December that distributes $25 billion to “households that are unable to pay rent and utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The law is sending $200 million to Alaska but allows any city with more than 200,000 people to request that it handle its share separately. The Municipality of Anchorage has applied for such a separate share, but neither AHFC nor legislative budget officials were certain how large that share is.
“The state will have only a portion of that share. Anchorage will have the rest,” Alexei Painter, director of the Legislative Finance Division, told legislators on Monday.
Municipal officials said they were unable to provide an interview on Wednesday.
Butcher told legislators that the new federal money could allow Alaskans to receive 12 to 15 months’ worth of rent, “depending on the circumstances of the renter.”
The program’s first priority, he said, will be paying the rent of Alaskans who are “in arrears.”
Once the program’s rules are settled, he said Alaskans can expect to see a massive advertising campaign on TV, radio and the internet.
“I think all of you will be seeing, at numerous times and in numerous places, discussion of this program,” he said.