Delaware offers renters, homeowners $40 million in COVID-19 housing aid

Delaware Gov. John Carney

Delaware Gov. John Carney answers questions regarding Delaware’s response to coronavirus during a press briefing at the Carvel State Office building in Wilmington on April 3, 2020. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

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More than 61,000 Delawareans are still out of work, according to the latest numbers available from the state Department of Labor. That level is over 200% higher than it was a year ago.

High unemployment has left many struggling to pay the rent or mortgage.

“They’re scared, they don’t know how they’re going to pay their rent, how they’re going to pay their mortgage, how they’re going to eat,” said State Rep. Kendra Johnson, who chairs the Housing and Community Affairs Committee in the House. “Ninety percent of the phone calls and emails I receive from constituents in the 5th District, they are about unemployment.”

A total of $40 million will expand a pair of programs designed to allay those fears, Gov. John Carney announced Monday afternoon. Half the money will come from the state’s share of CARES Act funding, the other half from New Castle County’s CARES funds.

Renters will get help through the Delaware Housing Assistance Program, or DE HAP, which was first launched in March to help renters stay in their homes. Renters who meet income requirements can get up to $5,000 in assistance. The money would be sent directly to landlords.

Six thousand people applied for help in the first three weeks of the program, which was paused in late April because of overwhelming demand. To be eligible, a household must have a post-pandemic income at or below 60% of the median income for the county in which they live.

“We know it’s incredibly important now because those additional federal benefits expired at the end of July, and so we have hundreds, if not thousands, of Delawareans that would be facing these very significant financial challenges,” Carney said.

The state is also offering help through the Delaware Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program which was first created in 2007 to help homeowners during the foreclosure crisis. Homeowners can get $5,000 paid to their lenders if they have a post-pandemic income of 80% of the median income for their county. In Kent and Sussex counties, 80% of the median income translates to $65,520. In New Castle County, 80% of the median income is $77,280.

“No one should lose their home, no one should be thrown out on the street due to the inability to pay their rent or mortgage during a public health emergency,” said New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer. “Even before there was anything called the CARES Act, before there was any federal funding, we committed half a million dollars from our reserve fund to partner with the state’s great DE HAP program to make sure there was rental assistance.”

The Delaware State Housing Authority is working with several housing counseling agencies that  will process applications for emergency assistance. More information is available at the DHSA’s website, http://www.destatehousing.com/covid19/.

On July 1, Carney’s more than three-month-long moratorium on foreclosures and evictions was lifted. His modified order calls for all evictions to be stayed until the Justice of the Peace Courts can determine whether borrowers would benefit from court-supervised mediation or an alternative dispute-resolution program. With those provisions, DHSA says renters at risk of eviction should be able to stay in their homes for months to come.

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