The City and County of Honolulu reopened its rent and utility relief program for struggling households Monday afternoon. But hours after its launch, the city temporarily closed the online portal in order to process the 8,000 applications it received.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced Monday the city is accepting applications from residents that have been seriously impacted financially by the pandemic. Qualified residents can receive up to $2,500 a month to pay for their rent and utility bills for up to 12 months.
The city allocated $114 million in federal funds for the program, and partnered with Catholic Charities Hawaiʻi and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement to help with the application process.
A year ago, former mayor Kirk Caldwell allocated $25 million in federal CARES Act funds to establish the individual hardship relief fund, which helped qualified households pay for their rent, utilities, and child care. But challenges in processing thousands of applications slowed the city's effort.
Office of economic revitalization director Amy Asselbaye says the city learned a lot from the previous program, and signficant changes have been made to expedite the process and prevent fraud.
"There is a single portal of entry for all applications to the rental and utility relief program. This one portal will help us to avoid the duplication issues from the past rental relief program," she said.
Asselbaye says the portal contains several features that will reduce the amount of duplicate applications and help pre-screen those applying for relief. The portal will also remind applicants if their application is incomplete.
"There will be in-person assistance made available for those with limited English speaking abilities, and those with technology barriers," Asselbaye said.
Changes have also been made to the program's eligibility requirements. According to Asselbaye, the program now uses federal requirements because it's using federal funds.
The city is also capping the amount of applications it is receiving to 8,000. Asselbaye says that will help the city's partners to process the applications and set up timely payments for qualified households.
At 3:53 p.m. the city announced it closed the online portal after reaching its cap.
The city will reopen the portal, but households making at or less than 80% of the area median income will be allowed to apply. According to a city release, the cycle of temporarily closing the portal to process applications and payments will continue until the funding is fully expended.
City officials do not know when the portal will reopen for the next round of applications.
Asselbaye says those who have received help last year through the individual hardship relief program will have to reapply.
More information about the program can be found at OneOahu.org/RentHelp
Residents can also find other support services offered by the City and its partners at OneOahu.org/Resources