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Help still available for struggling Beaufort renters

in Coronavirus/News by

By Mike McCombs

Help remains available for Beaufort County renters struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic, as S.C. Housing’s SC Stay Plus assistance program is still taking applications.

SC Stay Plus provides payments directly to landlords and utility companies for “cost-burdened” renters who meet certain criteria.

As of Monday, fewer than 10 percent of the county’s nearly 5,000 “cost-burdened” renters had taken advantage of the program. “Cost-burdened” renters are those who pay rent above 50 percent of their household income.

Federal guidelines say rent should occupy close to 30 percent of the household income. After that point, housing costs become a burden, preventing renters from paying for necessities such as food, transportation and child care.

In the two weeks since The Island News’ original story on the program, applications in Beaufort County have risen by about 20 percent, according to S.C. Housing spokesperson Chris Winston. Several other media outlets have had coverage of the topic, as well.

“(Increased) media coverage and the approaching end of the (eviction) moratorium resulted in a boost in applications. People are seeing it and paying attention,” Winston said. “It’s still not the number we would have expected at this point, but it’s doing better.

As of Monday morning, statewide applications were up 14 percent, according to Winston, meaning Beaufort is slightly ahead of the curve.

CDC extended the eviction moratorium at the beginning of August for counties with “high and substantial” COVID transmission. This extension covers all of South Carolina.

Winston added that between tax refunds, child-tax refunds and other stimulus payments, there are other ways some struggling renters may have stayed current, as well.

SC Stay Plus provides assistance for renters in three key ways:

  1. SC Stay Plus will pay up to 12 months of back rent brought on by COVID-19 related financial instability. The money is paid directly to the landlord.
  2. SC Stay Plus will offer up to three additional months of future rental assistance for those at risk of homelessness or eviction.
  3. SC Stay Plus will offer utility assistance paid directly to the utility companies for past-due utility and energy costs.

Applicants are already qualified if they are collecting SNAP, WIC, unemployment benefits or Medicaid. There is no citizenship requirement, and there doesn’t have to be a formal lease. Renters must simply show they are consistently trying to pay rent.

Winston said there are a large number of partial applications in the system, and S.C. Housing officials are trying to determine what required items are giving applicants trouble and why.

“(We need to) make sure help is going to the right person, the person who needs help, if it means possibly going without them providing a document that they may be challenged to produce,” Winston said. “Also, for instance, if an entire zip code is below a level that qualifies (but is still struggling), maybe that’s an area that needs help and we need to request help.”

The SC Stay Plus application can accessed online at SCHousing.com/Home/SC-Stay-Plus. For those without reliable internet access, residents can sign up online or visit any Beaufort County Branch Library, which are offering free public access to computers, free Wi-Fi and informational flyers about the SC Stay Plus program.

“As a valued community resource, the Beaufort County Library exists to connect residents to a wide variety of resources,” Beaufort County Library Director Amanda Dickman said in a release. “With five branch libraries uniquely positioned across the County, residents have reliable access to computers, Wi-Fi, and general information about the SC Stay Plus program.”

Residents can visit www.beaufortcountylibrary.org for a complete list of locations, hours and services available.

For more information, call 803-336-3420, 1-800-476-0412 or email scstayplus@schousing.com.

Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.

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