Butler County’s Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF) organization received an $11.4 million grant in March to assist local families with rental and utility expenses through the end of 2021.
The grant, part of the U.S. Treasury’s recent emergency rental assistance program, is intended to help families who are unable to keep up with payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Money will be used to help with rent assistance, utilities and up to 12 months of back rent.
Edna Southard is an Oxford city councilor and a SELF board member. She explained that the organization is working with five other nonprofits, including the Oxford Family Resource Center (FRC), to identify community members who need rental assistance.
“The need is tremendous,” Jeffrey Diver, director of SELF, said . “The need has continued to be very steady here at SELF … We’ve been assisting people with COVID-related emergencies since last April or May, so [before the grant], we had already helped 609 households with various emergency assistance since the pandemic hit.”
To qualify for funding, Diver said families have to have an income less than 80% of the area median income. In Oxford, part of the Greater Cincinnati area, individuals with an income below $48,350 or families of four with an income below $69,050 are eligible.
Diver said the funding will only go toward families whose income has been affected by the pandemic. This includes people who lost their jobs, have reduced hours, need to stay home to care for children or can provide other proof of income loss related to COVID-19.
“It’s a wide-ranging list of reasons why somebody may have been impacted by COVID,” Diver said. “It’s beyond just thinking about those people that were laid off, for example in the hospitality industry when all of it came to a halt last year. There could be other reasons that somebody needs this assistance.”
One of Oxford’s overarching goals for 2021 is to prioritize affordable housing. Southard said the funding from SELF will help low-income community members, who otherwise may have faced eviction, have secure housing for the rest of the year.
“Somebody shouldn’t be saddled with this kind of debt that would hold them back for all their future operations,” Southard said. “That’s why this is happening.”
Brad Hoblitzell, director of the FRC, said the grant has allowed them to help more people than their funding typically accounts for.
The FRC spent $70,000 from March through Dec. 2020 on rental assistance but was only able to help families at or below 125% the federal poverty guideline: $12,880 for an individual and $26,500 for families of four.
“It’s a broader range of folks,” Hoblitzell said. “There are [more people who] qualify for this than would normally qualify for our services.”
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Butler County signed the contract with SELF on March 15, and the program is just starting to get off the ground. Diver said he’s hopeful they’ll be able to extend the funding through Sept. 2022 rather than cutting it off at the end of the year.
In the meantime, Hoblitzell said he’s glad the grant came through when it did.
“I’m thankful for [SELF] and that they’re in a position to orchestrate [the grant] and oversee it and run it,” Hoblitzell said. “We’re thrilled to be a part of extend[ing] that to folks here in Oxford.”