By Larry Persily

Wrangell Sentinel 

Up to $200 million in federal funding is available to help Alaskans who are having trouble paying their rent due to a loss of income during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp., a state agency, is running the assistance program. The corporation is  using Alaska’s share of federal aid for renters, as allocated under December’s congressional pandemic relief legislation.

The application period opened Tuesday and will close at 11:59 p.m. March 5.

More than 15,000 Alaskans had pre-registered for the program as of Monday morning, the housing agency reported.

Applications can be filed online at AlaskaHousingRelief.org, or call toll-free for more information at 833-440-0420.

The online process asks questions to help applicants determine if they qualify. A case worker will later contact applicants to request proof of financial hardship due to the pandemic, a copy of their lease and a copy of their driver’s license or other photo ID.

In Skagway, the program is open to households with less than $66,880 in income last year — or, if due to the economic hit from the pandemic, their household income will fall below that line this year. Total income includes all wages, tips and other income by all members of the household, according to the rules posted on the AHFC website.

Unlike last year’s similar housing assistance program operated by the state corporation, this year’s program does not cover homeowners. The federal rules limit the funding to renters only.

The municipality of Anchorage received almost $36 million out of Alaska’s $200 million allocation. The municipality is working with AHFC so that there is one, coordinated program for renters statewide.

Alaska’s share came from $25 billion appropriated by Congress for rental assistance nationwide.

To qualify, applicants must show they suffered economic loss — such as a layoff, hours or contract work cut — “due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak,” the AHFC website explains. The assistance can help with back rent and/or future rent, up to 12 months in total, and unpaid utility bills.

The funds will be paid directly to landlords, property managers and utilities.

Payment of arrears “that could result in eviction of an eligible household is prioritized,” under the federal rules. Assistance funds can go toward past-due rent and utilities bills as far back as March 2020.

Last summer, AHFC operated a program with $10 million in federal CARES Act funds, providing up to $1,200 in one-time payments to assist Alaskans with their rent or mortgage payments. More than 8,000 households applied for the aid. Applicants to last summer’s program will need to apply again for this winter’s assistance.