CERA program to assist residents with rent, utility hardships due to COVID-19

NILES — The Ferry Street Resource Center, 620 Ferry St. in Niles, will act as the first hub for residents in Niles and surrounding areas in Berrien County to access the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program.

The program provides rent and utility assistance to households experiencing financial hardships due to COVID-19, according to a release from the Ferry Street Resource Center.

“We are helping people get into places as well as stay in places,” said Ric Pawloski, executive director of the Ferry Street Resource Center. “CERA is designed to keep people in places.”

The program arrives as many across the region still feel the economic effects of the pandemic.

“Nobody had any idea what COVID-19 would do and how long things would be impacted,” Pawloski said. “We are hopeful that things will continue to get better with vaccinations, but there has still been an impact on people and their ability to get work. We  see that because we often try to assist people in getting work as well.”

The program, administered by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, began accepting applications as of March 15.

“We will be processing applications,” Pawloski said. “There’s a little bit more documentation required, so we are here to help people accumulate the documentation and make sure the applications are filled out properly and thoroughly. That way all the documentation can be included and the process can move pretty smoothly.”

The applications and documents assembled will then be processed Emergency Shelter Services in Benton Harbor.

“We are working in partnership with ESS to make sure applications are thorough and complete so when we submit them, they are much easier to process, and the process goes much more smoothly,” Pawloski said.

According to Pawloski, the CERA program can provide up to one year of past due rental assistance, with three months being able to be used for future rent payments. Past-due residential electricity, home heating, water, sewer and garbage bills, when tenant is responsible for payments, are also included in the assistance. Future utility bills may also benefit from CERA funding. Pawloski also said applicants may be able to have access for a $300 internet stipend, if they qualify.

The CERA program is a part of the Coronavirus response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021. The act provided the state of Michigan nearly $285 million in funding.

According to the release from FSRC, tenants eligible for CERA would include those who in 2020 had income that did not exceed 80 percent of the area’s median income, as well as meeting the following conditions:

•Households where at least one individual has qualified for unemployment benefits or has experienced a reduction in household income;

• Households where at least one individual has incurred significant costs or has experienced financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak; and

• Households with at least one member who can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability evidenced by a past due utility or rent notice.

A very low income, or person who at 50 percent of the average median income could qualify for rental assistance of up to one year. Those with low income or 50 to 80 percent of the average median income could qualify for up to 10 months of rental assistance, those others may be available for three months of rental assistance if necessary for housing stability.

Palowski said landlords may apply on behalf of tenants, by completing necessary paperwork and submitting supporting documents.

Palowski said residents interested in learning more about CERA and if they qualify should contact the Ferry Street Resource Center at (269) 687-9860 to set up an appointment. The center is open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

More information about the CERA program including qualifications and application process may be found at www.Michigan.gov/CERA.

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