By Princess Safiya Byers
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Here’s an update on what’s happening with the Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program, or WRAP, and the agencies tasked with implementing the program.
We’ve previously reported on the Social Development Commission’s struggle to manage a backlog of at least 24,000 applicants for WRAP.
The commission, also known as the SDC, received $6.7 million to assist residents of Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Washington counties with rental assistance as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act package.
The need for WRAP intensified after a ban prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants expired May 26.
Here are some things you should know:
SDC makes some inroads
As of Friday, July 10, the SDC has given out $363,000 in assistance funds and contacted 16,000 people in its backlog to explain their place in the application process.
“There are some people who didn’t get a message, but that’s because they reached out to us before we had a computer system,” said George Hinton, the CEO of the Social Development Commission. “Initially we were taking down information on paper, so not everyone’s information is in the system.”
View from the Department of Administration
As of July 7, the SDC received $5.7 million in benefits funding for WRAP, said a spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, which is administering the program.
To address the significant volume in interest and need in Milwaukee, the department has provided financial resources to the SDC to cover the overhead of hiring additional staff.
The spokeswoman said the department continues to monitor the progress of the distribution of WRAP resources and is prepared to provide additional support, if necessary, to ensure residents receive WRAP benefits as quickly as possible.
SDC is not the only agency struggling
Like the Social Development Commission, Community Advocates is working to keep up with the high call volume its been receiving.
Community Advocates received $7 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to assist families in Milwaukee County who face eviction or are behind on rent due to a COVID-19-related loss of income.
We checked in with Deborah Heffner, the housing strategy director at Community Advocates, a social service nonprofit in Milwaukee, to answer questions about the process.
How many people have you served?
Community Advocates has around 1,500 applications in our backlog. But we have reviewed about 1,100 of those. We are playing catch up and making sure we do our due diligence at the same time.
How long should people wait to hear back?
Wait at least five days once you complete the application. Once you are approved, it will take about seven to 10 days to process payments.
Is there a best time to call?
We prefer email, but we are working on being able to do live calls.
How can people make the process easier?
• Understand the eligibility. We offer different services depending on your situation. It would help us and those we serve if people would be sure they meet eligibility before applying.
• We ask that tenants and landlords work together. Tenants should let their landlord know you applied for assistance as soon as possible. Use the confirmation email we send you if necessary. If a tenant tells you that they applied, hold off on filing eviction.
What are the criteria for eligibility?
Everything someone needs to know can be found on our rental assistance page.
Does meeting eligibility make funds immediately available?
Not immediately. We are working on a first come-first serve basis, but if you meet eligibility and funds are available, you should receive the funds.
How many people work for this program?
We have seven case managers and we hired 20 temporary team members to assist with both the rent assistance and energy programs.
Was Community Advocates prepared for this volume of interest?
I do not think anyone was ready for this.
What changes have been made to assist the program?
We are working on adding a night shift so people can be working around the clock. While we are not providing in-person services, we do still have an application pickup and drop-off at 728 N. James Lovell St. as we realize that not everyone has access (or wants) to apply online. We have a team member now reviewing those hard copy applications on the spot so the applicant knows if they are missing anything that would hold up the process. They can also photocopy anything needed as part of the drop- off process as well.
Anything else people should know?
We are working to make this run as smoothly as possible for everyone. No one could have prepared for this, but we are working to perfect this system because we know things will get worse.
Agencies working together
Community Advocates and SDC have been working in partnership to get more people the assistance they need.
“Community Advocates partnered with us serving people through our grant until they got their own,” Hinton said. “Now we work together, making sure maximum people are served from either grant because qualification is different for both.”
A need for even more money
The SDC is advocating for another pool of money, Hinton said.
“The eligibility for these two programs is very specific,” he said. “Everyone is struggling right now, so there needs to be another option.”
Milwaukee Alderman Khalif Rainey agrees.
“I kind of foresaw this very situation,” he said. “This is why I voted to extend the eviction moratorium.”
“If rent assistance programs continue to struggle, there will be an issue on top of an issue,” Rainey said.