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Changes aim to make rental assistance easier to access in Cincinnati

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The Community Action Agency has $41 million of federal rental and utility assistance to distribute to Cincinnati residents.

Throughout the pandemic, Cincinnati's Community Action Agency has distributed $17.5 million to more than 6,000 families, and there's more than $41 million of federal assistance still up for grabs. There have been some hurdles to getting the money to those who need it most because of application backlogs and staffing shortages at the agency.

Director of Human Services Virginia Tallent said during a Cincinnati Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday, CAA is focusing on several changes to help streamline the allocation process.

Among the biggest changes is self-attestment, a practice that lets people report their financial hardships and risk of homelessness as opposed to having to prove their need for assistance upfront with "burdensome paperwork," which often requires landlord participation.

CAA will be implementing the practice by the end of the month, Tallent said, which will make it easier for the organization to triage applications. It eventually plans to help people in emergency cases within 48 hours, and other cases within two weeks.

Council Member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney said expediting the distribution process is essential "because we heard so many people who had applied but they just didn't get the money in time. So, that's very encouraging."

One of CAA's biggest challenges has been employing enough people to help process the applications, despite offering more than $17 per hour and full benefits. The agency is finalizing plans to work with the United Way to help process more applications faster.

People will inevitably still end up in eviction court, and most defendants can't afford a lawyer. In addition to having someone from CAA present at eviction court twice a week to help people, the organization is working with the city to provide more access to legal representation.

"The city is now moving forward with Legal Aid, actually, we just executed the contract to implement an Access to Counsel Program with ERA (Emergency Rental Assistance) money," Tallent said.

The federal government has spent about $8 billion distributing rental assistance nationally.

More information about how to apply for rental and utility assistance in Cincinnati can be found on the Community Action Agency website. Hamilton County resident may visit the Job and Family Services website.