Nebraska — This week, the City of Omaha allowed any tenants, regardless of citizenship, to apply for the remaining $18 million in emergency rental assistance.
According to Omaha City Attorney Matthew Kuhse, the city previously disallowed this due to a state provision that prevents anyone living in the United States illegally from receiving public aid. In response to a request from the city’s Planning Department and Mayor’s Office, he stated that they discovered a provision that altered their evaluation.
Kuhse explained that the Act offers an exception for “short-term, non-cash, in-kind emergency catastrophe relief.” Due to the fact that the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA) rental assistance originates from federal monies designated for pandemic relief, the city ruled that the citizenship restriction may be eliminated. The Nebraska Examiner was the first to report on the development.
Kuhse stated that the extension aligns Omaha with Lincoln, which likewise does not require evidence of citizenship to get emergency rental assistance through the program. It differs from the state, which continues to need proof.
The only remark made by a spokesman for Governor Pete Ricketts was that the state “does not provide financial advantages to illegal immigrants.”
According to Jason Feldhaus, executive director of the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless, Omaha has around $18 million left to disperse of the original $100 million it got under the program (MACCH).
According to Pierce Greenberg, an assistant professor of sociology at Creighton University, it is difficult to determine the number of tenants who would benefit from the increase, but it is likely to be in the thousands.
According to Feldhaus, the growth is especially significant because these renters are very vulnerable and rarely seek aid. Eliminating the bar for evidence of citizenship will provide them access to sustainable housing and possibly reduce Omaha’s homeless population, he noted.
According to his research, approximately 34,000 immigrants reside in South Omaha, which has been mainly ignored by the ERA, according to Greenberg.
This summer, Greenberg examined data indicating where ERA monies were disbursed in Omaha and compared it to an ERA priority score indicating the level of help needed in various sections of the city. Eleven of the twelve locations that were not receiving adequate financing were situated in South Omaha, according to the speaker.
This startled Greenberg, as he was not accustomed to the findings of his research being so definitive, he added.
“It just indicates that something is occurring,” said Greenberg.
Greenberg is pleased that the city has expanded its program, but he has “mixed feelings” about how long it took. He stated that those who may have benefited from the aid during the peak of the pandemic were harmed by the wait.
“The city’s choice has real-world consequences,” he remarked.
Omaha and Lincoln will continue to accept ERA applications for the foreseeable future, but the state’s program is due to expire. Lee Would, administrator of the state budget, stated that the state intends to continue accepting applications until around September 9 and will likely continue giving help until the end of the year.
Ricketts determined earlier this year that the state would not apply for $120 million in second-round ERA funds, citing that the pandemic urgency had passed and Nebraska still had first-round cash remaining.
Will indicated that the state had around $5.7 million in leftover first-round money, a significant decrease from the $30 million reported in March. This, according to Will, is partially due to a modest increase in applications as a result of the state’s enhanced promotion, but primarily because the state made $15.5 million accessible to NGOs through the housing stability services program.
As a result of the state’s rejection of its second-round financing, the U.S. Treasury Department has indicated that it will reallocate the funds, giving precedence to qualified jurisdictions inside Nebraska, such as Omaha and Lincoln. Feldhaus stated that the city has applied for the reallocation, but the Treasury Department has not yet responded.
Although Omaha has eliminated the citizenship criterion, Feldhaus stated that there are additional qualifying restrictions for the ERA, including a requirement that candidates have an annual income of less than 80% of the area’s median income. He stated that other organizations, including MACCH and its allies, also provide rental help to ineligible applicants.