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Omaha-metro renters frustrated with slow rollout of COVID assistance

Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 9:21 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Frustrations are mounting as renters in the Omaha-metro wait for help amid the pandemic.

The state opened up applications Monday for rental assistance for residents outside Lancaster and Douglas counties, leaving it up to local governments to dole out the funds.

“It’s hard for me to sleep at night because I’m constantly wondering if they’re going to come knock on my door, are they going to put me out and where am I going to go with my kids,” said Sara Peterson. “I have a two-year-old and a 16-year-old.”

It’s been nearly a month since both the City of Omaha and Douglas County announced they have federal funds in hand for rent assistance and that they were aiming to open applications by February 1, but have yet to do so.

Despite a federal halt on evictions, some renters are still getting eviction notices from landlords.

“They know that we’re waiting on assistance but they just don’t care. They want their money,” said Peterson, noting she’s been trying to find work, but with limited daycare options amid the pandemic, it’s been tough.

“I was like maybe I can get a work-from-home job, but I’m not even having any success with that even with me putting in 15 applications a week,” said Peterson.

She’s applied for rental assistance with a local nonprofit but is likely out of luck until the city and county start moving their funds.

“Right now unfortunately we’re seeing all of those phone calls continue to come in and we really don’t have any of the funding support so we’re caught in a difficult spot,” said Mike Hornacek, President & CEO, Together Inc., noting not only are the calls for help continuing, there’s more of them.

“They are coming in at an increased clip,” said Hornacek. “And you can hear the frustration and fear in those voicemails you hear every day.”

This leaves renters like Peterson wondering what’s the hold-up.

“It would be a different story if the city doesn’t have it but the city has the funding. Why aren’t they releasing the money to help us in need?” said Peterson.

The mayor’s office told 6 News it’s a matter of working through federal requirements, which is a detailed process that takes time. For the county, they’re also walking through the steps working to make leftover CARES Act funds available.

The city council is expected to sign-off on a deal with a local nonprofit in a couple of weeks and applications for rent assistance will open shortly after.

For those living outside the city of Omaha, Douglas County is aiming to have applications open by the end of the month.

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