Agency forming plans to distribute $200M in aid to renters

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska renters will have to wait for an undetermined amount of time before receiving allotments of up to $200 million in federal coronavirus aid.

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. will oversee the rental assistance in much of the state, but the corporation said Wednesday it is still forming plans to distribute the funds, the Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.

Corporation Public Relations Manager Soren Johansson said the U.S. Treasury issued updated guidance this week on establishing rules for the program's implementation.

"We’re working now to understand the requirements and develop a plan that supports renters and gets money to landlords as soon as we’re able,” Johansson said.

Congress passed and former President Donald Trump signed legislation in December distributing $25 billion to households unable to pay rent and utilities because of the pandemic.

The measure allows cities with more than 200,000 residents to request separate funding outside state control. The Municipality of Anchorage applied for a separate share, but neither the corporation nor legislative budget officials were certain of how much.

“The state will have only a portion of that share. Anchorage will have the rest,” Legislative Finance Division Director Alexei Painter told legislators Monday.

Anchorage officials were not available to discuss the issue Wednesday.

Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development economist Rob Kreiger, citing U.S. Census Bureau figures, said there were about 88,927 rental housing units in Alaska in 2019, accounting for just over 35% of the state’s condominiums, apartments and houses.

The funding approved by state lawmakers on Monday is 20 times the amount distributed by the housing finance corporation last year to renters and homeowners in a smaller coronavirus aid program. Only renters are eligible in the forthcoming round.

“That was a federal restriction that was put on it,” corporation Executive Director Bryan Butcher said.

Butcher told legislators the federal funding could provide Alaska residents with 12 to 15 months of rent money. The program’s first priority will be helping renters who are behind in their payments.

Residents can expect to see a widespread television, radio and internet advertising campaign after the program's rules are settled, Butcher said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.