By ERIN ROLL
Montclair wants to give low-income renters some extra help on affording their first three months’ rent, while Essex County is offering six months of assistance to eligible tenants whose incomes have been affected by the pandemic.
The township has decided to alter its affordable housing ordinance to include a rental assistance program for very-low-income tenants in eligible rental units. On Sept. 29, the council approved an ordinance changing the rental assistance from one month to up to three months, or $2,500 in rent, whichever amount is greater.
Funding for the program is through Montclair’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is funded mainly by development fees paid to the township by residential and commercial developers. Developers pay 1.5 percent of the assessed value on a house, and 2.5 percent of the assessed value on a commercial building. Other sources include income from rent on township-owned housing units and proceeds from the sale of affordable units.
The Council on Affordable Housing trust fund contains, as of Oct. 6, $1,287,187.
In order to qualify for the program, applicants must meet the income eligibility requirements and have a lease to rent one of the 785 deed-restricted affordable apartment units in Montclair. The “very low” income threshold in Essex County is $21,161 for one person, and “low” income for one-person is $35,268, according to 2019 data from the Affordable Housing Professionals of New Jersey.
Eligible properties must be rental properties within Montclair that hold deed restrictions for affordable housing units.
“The rent of the apartment will be limited by the deed restriction to be affordable to a very-low-income household,” the ordinance states.
William Scott, co-chairman of the Housing Commission, said the commission had sought to have moderate as well as low-income residents included in the renters assistance, and will recommend that the township expand the new program. The commission had also hoped to have time to discuss the ordinance before it was voted on, he said.
However, Scott said that he was encouraged by the new administration and their support for affordable housing policies.
AhavaFelicidad, who is active in affordable housing advocacy in Montclair, including the Tenants Organization of Montclair, said she was encouraged by the move. “Any grant money is good money,” she said.
Montclair’s affordable housing is located at Matthew Carter Apartments, Union Gardens, Valley and Bloom, and the Montclair Residences at Bay Street Station. HOMECorp also manages several rental properties at different locations around Montclair.
AhavaFelicidad, who fought for the recent rent-control ordinance, said a renters assistance program has been needed for a long time, given the rising rents in Montclair. A one-bedroom apartment can cost as much as $1,701 at market rate in Montclair, according to data from Apartments.com.
“That [assistance] is going to help a lot of people, so we can have our diversity, our culture and our arts,” she said.
Essex County has announced the Coronavirus Emergency Rental Assistance Program, funded with grants from the Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions Grant programs.
The application window is open until Oct. 23. Residents must be able to demonstrate that their income was affected by COVID-19 and that they are either unable to pay rent or are at risk of eviction. Renters will also have to document that they meet federal thresholds as low- to moderate-income renters, and document that they are not already receiving assistance from another source.
Tenants must have approval from their landlords for the application, with the landlord verifying he or she will accept payment from Essex County.
“The economic impact of the coronavirus has made it difficult for some households to maintain their housing during the pandemic. Our Emergency Rental Assistance Program will help eligible residents pay up to six months of their rent and help them quickly exit homelessness during these uncertain times and benefits landlords who will receive rental payments so they can pay for property taxes and other expenses,” Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said.
Gov. Phil Murphy ordered a moratorium on evictions and rent increases for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.