Around the Community – COVID-related housing & utility help
On this page revised as of September 15, 2021:
INDEX TO WHAT FOLLIOWS:
- NEW STATE LAW, PL 2021 c.188, was enacted August 4, 2021 to prevent evictions & provide rental assistance. (See below, NJ Dept. of Community Affairs’ “Q&A” directive to understand the process of getting help)
- N.J. Homeowners Facing Threat of Foreclosure – procedures & assistance available
- List of Non-Legal & Legal Resources Related to COVID-19
- Energy/Utility Assistance (plus, moratorium on shut-offs)
- Federal housing assistance advocacy needed on bills pending in Sept. & Oct. 2021
- 10 Things to Know about the Federal Expanded Child Tax Credit
NEW STATE LAW, ENACTED ON 08/04/2021, TO PROVIDE RESIDENTIAL TENANT PROTECTIONS FROM EVICTION & RENTAL & UTILITY ASSISTANCE TO MANY COVID VICTIMS WHICH MAY ALSO INDIRECTLY HELP MANY LANDLORDS WHO HAVE NOT RECEIVED RENT DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Are you a renter who was impacted by the pandemic? Here are key things you should know:
Behind on Rent?
- If you’re behind on rent and your income is below 80% of your county Area
Median Income (AMI) you can’t be evicted until after December 31, 2021
- If your income is between 80-120% of your county AMI the eviction freeze will be
lifted on August 31, 2021. However there are more protections (read on).
- If you have unpaid rent between 3/1/20-8/31/21, you are permanently protected
from eviction for unpaid rent, late rent, or failure to pay a rent increase during
- Rent during the same period of 3/1/20-8/31/21 has been converted to civil debt
(NOT to be heard via cases in Landlord-Tenant Court)
How to Apply? There are four important “steps” that tenant need to take:
- STEP #1: Complete the NJ self-certification form now: https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/renter
- A copy of the form can be emailed and texted to you, as well as the court if
you have a pending eviction case.
- If you have an existing eviction case, you will be allowed to enter the Docket number of the case, so that the court will then dismiss the case. If there is no existing case for you, but you owe back rent, then the court will get the information and, hopefully, will not allow a new case to be filed against you for this back rent.
- Because this process can be complicated, consider seeing legal advice. See below for where tenants can apply for legal advice and/or representation: “LIST OF NON-LEGAL & LEGAL RESOURCES RELATED TO COVID-19.”
- STEP #2: There is an additional $500 Million in assistance for any renter below 120% of county AMI – apply now: https://njdca.onlinepha.com/ (This is NJ Department of Community Affairs’ [NJ DCA’s] “portal” for all federal COVID emergency rental assistance programs (CVERAP), which includes Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III, as well as the new NJ Eviction Prevention Program (EPP) created by the new law on August 4th. The Phase I, II, and III programs can help you pay back rent (and some going forward) and the EPP program (lottery system) will help you pay rent going forward.}
- Attention Tenants: From the NJ DCA: COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Phase II Enrollment Opened March 22, 2021 https://njdca.onlinepha.com/Content/Uploads/DCA_NJ_ERAP_Flyer_2021_03_10.pdf
- Attention Landlords and Property Owners: From the NJ DCA: COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Phase II Enrollment Opened March 21, 2021 https://njdca.onlinepha.com/Content/Uploads/DCA_NJ_ERAP_Flyer_Landlord.pdf
- Attention Tenants, Landlords and Property Owners: County of Essex also has a rental assistance program. Tenants and Landlords can apply for BOTH the NJ DCA funds AND the County funds: The County of Essex Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) opened on May 13, 2021. There is $15.4 million available to be awarded. Renters and landlords who have been negatively impacted during the Coronavirus pandemic and need help to pay rent or utility bills can apply for funding. Online applications are available at: https://portal.neighborlysoftware.com/ERAP-ESSEXCOUNTYNJ/Participant . Awards of assistance will be granted on a first come, first serve basis. NJ COVID rent relief is going where it’s most needed. Which ZIP codes received the most? By Ashley Balcerzak, NorthJersey.com (Sept. 14, 2021).
- STEP# 3: The state eviction moratorium is the only one that may apply to you. On August 26, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States ended the federal eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ACTION NEEDED:
(a) If a tenant does not qualify for the state eviction moratorium, contact your local legal services organizations for advice; AND also (b) Contact their U.S. Senators and Member of the U.S. House of Representatives to ask that Congress pass a law extending the moratorium on evictions. Use as a template for your letter .
- STEP #4: Tenants Must Still Look for and Reply to All Communications and Notices from NJ DCA and Courts.
Tenants should ensure nothing falls through the cracks in obtaining assistance and protecting yourself from eviction Court eviction records for the emergency period shall not be made public, nor used by landlords in renting or by tenant screening agencies
How to talk to the NJ Department of Community Affairs about the above:
For Help Applying & Technical or Language Assistance
NJ Dept. of Community Affairs (DCA) Emergency Rental Assistance:
Call: 609-490-4550 (8:30 am – 8:00 p.m., Everyday)
You may also be able to get help from certified HUD housing counselors through Housing Help NJ – https://www.housinghelpnj.org/
N.J. HOMEOWNERS FACING THREAT OF FORECLOSURE – PROCEDURES & ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE
- Eviction protection for New Jersey homeowners is extended until November 15th. Homeowners can get counseling help from the NJ Housing & Mortgage Financing Agency (NJHMFA) Foreclosure Mediation Assistance Program. Visit: https://www.nj.gov/dca/hmfa/covid19/njresidents/ . The NJHMFA Housing Assistance Fund (HAF) will be in place soon to assist homeowners. Find details here: https://www.nj.gov/dca/hmfa/covid19/haf/ .
- Homeowners cannot be foreclosed on through Nov. 15, moving up the previous deadline of Jan. 1, 2022. [See above for seeking legal assistance: Legal Services of N.J., Volunteer Lawyers for Justice and “211”.] The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) foreclosure prevention protection program provides multiple options for how to manage any forbearance provided during the health emergency. The CFPB protection is universal and applies to all mortgage lenders. (CFPB information and help for homeowners, tenants and landlords can be found here: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/coronavirus/mortgage-and-housingassistance/help-for-homeowners/ ) Regardless of the CFPB protections, homeowners must pay attention to notices from banks and should consult with HUD housing counselors if they are in danger of foreclosure. See, NJ court procedures: Information on Foreclosure .
- Homeowners facing foreclosure should seek legal advice and representation. See below: Legal Services of N.J., Volunteer Lawyers for Justice and “211” or (if disabled), Community Health Law Project.
LIST OF NON-LEGAL & LEGAL RESOURCES RELATED TO COVID-19:
- Check out Legal Services of N.J.’s (LSNJ) the new and improved LSNJLAW℠ Hotline online intake at www.lsnjlawhotline.org . LSNJ’s legal hotline provides telephone advice, information, and referrals to low-income people in civil legal matters. The application process takes less than ten minutes to complete, and once you complete and submit the application, they will contact you within two business days. In addition, LSNJ provides a variety of legal and non-legal assistance resources online: See link. [Including: housing – evictions and foreclosures; consumer, credit and debt issues; family and relationships; jobs and employment; health; discrimination; schools and learning; military and veterans; taxes; Social Security Disability/SSI; Social Security; government aid and services; utilities, etc.]
See new LSNJ resource, LOOKING OUT FOR YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS (Sept. 2021) on pandemic eviction procedures and rental assistance – two articles entitled: “Eviction Procedures Have Begun” and “Eviction Moratorium and Eviction Protections Changed Under New State Law”
- See also for legal assistance, Volunteer Lawyers for Justice Tenancy Program 973-943-4754 and “211 NJ”. ]
- The following link for “what you need to know” is located at the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest . [Check for periodic updates. NOTE: As of August 30, 2021, this link was revised in English & Spanish to take into account the major changes resulting in the 08/04/2021 enactment of the new tenant-protection law to prevent evictions and, provide rental assistance]:
- COVID-19: RESIDENTIAL EVICTIONS and UTILITIES: WHAT TENANTS NEED TO KNOW
- Residential Evictions and Utilities: What Tenants Need to Know (Spanish)
- COVID-19: RESIDENTIAL EVICTIONS: WHAT HOMEOWNERS NEED TO KNOW – 8/9/21
- Residential Evictions: What Homeowners Need to Know (Spanish) – 8/9/21
- There is an excellent video presentation, dated 08/05/2021, by the N.J. Administrative Office of the Courts to help you understand the new eviction court procedures and how eligible tenants can apply to NJ DCA for rental arrears and/or future rent. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQmmyZ9bwF8 . In the video, Ms. Janel Winter, from NJ DCA, gave a concise description (not advice) of the process starting at minute 13:20, which is not a substitute for reading the NJ DCA “Q&As” (https://covid19.nj.gov/faqs/nj-information/uncategorized/renter-self-certification-process-and-faqs .) In the same video, Maura Sanders, Esq., from Legal Services of N.J., starting at minute 42:22 & then continuing again at minute 1:13:39, elaborates on new eviction procedures from a tenant-advocate perspective and described how income-vulnerable tenants can obtain legal advice or representation. See NJ Courts Information Page for Landlords . Both tenants and landlords may contact Litigant Services and the Offices of the Ombudsman at Self-Help Center .)
Low-Income renters and homeowner eligible households that are having a difficulty paying their heating and cooling bills can contact this office for financial assistance and help in weatherizing their homes. To apply, click https://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/dhcr/offices/energy.html or call 1-800-510-3102.
With customers owing millions in back payments, NJ extends ban on utility shut-offs, by Tom Johnson, NJ Spotlight News (June 10, 2021) [The moratorium on shut-offs of utility customers was one of several orders extended to Jan. 1 by the new law.][Article: “consumer advocates and environmentalists, is hoping the more than $6 billion available in federal relief funds from the American Rescue Plan can be tapped to help customers pay off those arrearages. So far, discussions have focused on expanding existing assistance programs as well as increasing income thresholds to allow middle-income customers to take advantage of the programs.”] See status.
10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE FEDERAL EXPANDED CHILD TAX CREDIT:
U.S. lawmakers have temporarily expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) available to families with children in 2021. This program starts now. It is for ALL families with children whose annual income is under the amounts indicated in the link below. This policy is anticipated reduce child poverty by nearly half—and to have even greater benefits for Black children, Latinx children and Indigenous children who were disproportionately likely to be denied the full value of the federal credit under prior law because they earned too little. This will make a huge difference in helping parents with the costs of caregiving and in promoting positive childhood development. Despite the wide-reaching benefits this program will have for children and families, parents are still uncertain about how the program will work. Here are 10 things to know about it.
See also the IRS’s website’s description: https://www.whitehouse.gov/child-tax-credit/