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Over 500 apply for state COVID-19 rent assistance in La Crosse area, less than a month into program

Over 500 apply for state COVID-19 rent assistance in La Crosse area, less than a month into program

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Rent strike

A "rent strike" sign hangs from a balcony outside a home on Williamson Street in Madison, March 31.

Applications for the Wisconsin Rent Assistance Program have been open for less than a month now, and more than 500 residents in area counties have already submitted applications.

The program, launched by the Wisconsin Department of Administration, offers up to $3,000 to Wisconsin households who are behind on rent in the wake of COVID-19, and make 80% or less than the county median income.

In La Crosse, Monroe, Vernon and Crawford counties, about 525 residents have applied for the assistance program, according to Couleecap, Inc., the agency handling cases from those areas, which said the funding is essentially an "eviction prevention program."

Of those applicants, 139 have not qualified for the grant, 386 are moving through the process, and 23 households have received the grant to date.

"Over the last several years, especially, we have seen rents climb at a greater rate than wages have climbed," said Hetti Brown, the executive director for Couleecap. "And that means that many families already who are renting are living on the edge."

In the four-county area, about 40% of households were barely making enough to cover basic living costs before COVID-19 even hit, Brown said, in an area where nearly 27,000 households rent.

"So when the pandemic hit and these households who were already living on the edge became unemployed at mass rates, they fell behind on their rent pretty quickly," Brown said.

A statewide moratorium blocked any residents from being evicted for several months, but it recently expired on May 26, and evictions are already on the rise.

"Just because landlords could not execute evictions at that time, doesn't mean people were off the hook," Brown said.

Hetti Brown mug

Brown

"Eviction has long-lasting, devastating effects on a family. It makes it very difficult for them to find a new place to rent," she said, "and it increases a household's likeliness of homelessness if they have an eviction on their record."

This new state funding goes directly to landlords, and case managers are in direct contact with landlords while processing an application to encourage them to hold off on taking eviction actions.

To qualify, residents must make 80% or less than their county's median income, and must prove that they are behind on rent, either through an eviction or delinquency notice or other documentation. 

"We have had people apply that were not late on rent yet, but they were worried about future rent payments," Brown said. "They would not be qualified until they become late on rent."

Once all information is collected from both the tenant and landlord, it takes about one week for the funds to be allocated.

Below is a list of counties, with how much 80% of its annual median income would be for certain household sizes:

La Crosse County

  • 1 person: $43,050
  • 2 people: $49,200
  • 3 people: $55,350
  • 4 people: $61,450
  • 5 people: $66,400
  • 6 people: $71,300
  • 7 people: $76,200
  • 8 people: $81,150

Vernon County

  • 1 person: $39,700
  • 2 people: $45,350
  • 3 people: $51,000
  • 4 people: $56,650
  • 5 people: $61,200
  • 6 people: $65,750
  • 7 people: $70,250
  • 8 people: $74,800

Monroe County

  • 1 person: $40,400
  • 2 people: $46,200
  • 3 people: $51,950
  • 4 people: $57,700
  • 5 people: $62,350
  • 6 people: $66,950
  • 7 people: $71,550
  • 8 people: $76,200

Crawford County

  • 1 person: $39,700
  • 2 people: $45,350
  • 3 people: $51,000
  • 4 people $56,560
  • 5 people: $61,200
  • 6 people: $65,750
  • 7 people: $70,250
  • 8 people: $74,800

Other area counties like Trempealeau, Eau Claire and Jackson should apply through the Western Dairyland EOC, and those in Chippewa and Dunn counties should apply through West CAP.

Information on how to apply with your proper agency can be found on the DOA website, or by calling the agency.

The WRAP grant is being offered through Oct. 31, or until state funding runs out, and officials encourage anyone who is behind on rent to apply.

"Over the last several years, especially, we have seen rents climb at a greater rate than wages have climbed. And that means that many families already who are renting are living on the edge."

Hetti Brown, the executive director for Couleecap

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