Rental and utility assistance program helps residents move forward

Clermont County residents who have fallen behind on rent and utility payments (except telephone, cable and Internet) due to the pandemic can get financial help through a new program. Last month, the Board of County Commissioners approved a Clermont County Job and Family Services’ contact with Clermont County Community Services to administer the Emergency Rental Assistance Fund. Clermont County received $6.1 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for renters through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. Eligible renter households may receive up to 12 months of past-due payment assistance with direct payments made to the landlords and utility providers. Landlords may apply on behalf of the renter with their consent. Funding expires on Dec. 31.

Here, a landlord shares its experience with the program:

Q: Where are Thomaston Woods and Thomaston Meadows located in Clermont County? How many people live there? Ages?

A: Thomaston Woods is located at 1460 Thomaston Drive in Amelia, Ohio off of Amelia-Olive Branch Road. Thomaston Woods is an affordable living community created by the St. Thomas Housing Corporation and is managed by Episcopal Retirement Services. We offer numerous programs, services and activities that empower residents to not only have a greater quality of life now, but also to help them achieve their larger goals in the future.

We have 100 apartments at Thomaston Woods with over 300 residents ranging from newborns to 80+ and everyone in-between. We pride ourselves with being a welcoming community where families support each other.

We also are fortunate to have Thomaston Meadows which houses 13 residents, ages 62 and older for older adults with limited income. The Meadows opened in 2005. 

Q: How has the emergency rental and utility assistance program helped Thomaston Meadows?

A: The emergency rental and utility assistance program allows our families to move forward with dignity and integrity. No one was prepared for COVID-19 and what damage it would create. The emergency rental and utility assistance programs have kept families solvent instead of being evicted or becoming homeless. Not only did our residents lose jobs through permanent or temporary layoffs, but a number of our residents became caregivers for family members. With loss of income, the emergency assistance program kept families together while giving the adult residents time to get back on their feet.

We can’t tell you how many times we had families say to us, “I’m used to helping others. I’m not used to asking for help.” Many of the families, who received the grant, were residents who were always timely with their rent payments throughout the years. COVID-19 threw a huge curveball and residents were caught off guard with losing their jobs, being in quarantine, testing “positive” for COVID-19 and or being their children’s teacher.

All of the grant recipients were grateful for this opportunity. This program allowed our residents to stay in their homes and avoid eviction. The money has also allowed them to focus on other important expenses such as car repairs or daily living needs. Some of our residents have returned to work, or have new jobs that give them flexibility.

Q: How many residents benefit from the program – and how? (Please give some examples)

A: Eleven families have been approved and two are waiting for approval. The majority are single or single kinship mothers with children.

The world doesn’t stop when COVID-19 happened. One family stepped-in to provide caregiving services for a much beloved, elderly family member when paid caregivers stopped coming to her home. She was someone in the last stages of her life, and the possible caregivers were concerned with giving her or catching COVID-19. The family member left her job out of love and was able to provide support until the end of this family member’s life.

Several of the families receiving the grant are “kinship,” parents. They are raising other children in addition to their own children. Some are housing their grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. They are not receiving financial assistance for these other members and are used to working to support their family. These families were especially hit hard during COVID-19.

A number of the residents had hours drastically cut, because their business heavily relied on professionals going to their offices. When work became virtual, their services were not required. Not only does this assistance help these residents stay in their apartments, but it also gives them time to decide if they need to move out of their current jobs and into something that could provide more opportunities.

Q: How has COVID affected Thomaston Woods and its residents?

A: COVID-19 has impacted many of our Thomaston Woods individuals and families in an unsuspecting way. Like other Ohioans and US citizens, they were not prepared when shutdowns happened in March 2020. Some residents were permanently laid off from their jobs while others had substantial time eliminated from their work weeks. Others were forced to self-quarantine because a co-worker tested positive for COVID-19. Some were put on indefinite layoffs. There was high uncertainty if they would have a job when companies re-opened. All of these factors resulted in loss of income. Unemployment often took weeks to months for our residents to receive. Consequently, our families were struggling even more to pay their rent, utilities, and daily living expenses.

Many of our families have children. When the schools closed, a number of the parents were forced to take off of work to supervise, support, and assist their children during the virtual school day. Parents were thrown into a role of being their children’s teachers. Parents realized that they needed to budget for breakfast and lunches. Although this is something that many of us might take for granted, meals can make a huge impact on a budget.

Q: How did you hear about the program?

A: Our community manager received the information through Clermont County Job and Family Services. We immediately communicated to our Thomaston Woods families through a group email. We also placed flyers on the residents’ home for several weeks and posted the information in public places and our Community Message Board.  Because there was a lot of information that the residents needed to provide, we encouraged families to privately meet with us. In turn, we worked closely with the Clermont County Support Services staff to make sure that families had the required information to qualify. Sometimes it took days and weeks to have everything in place.

When a new program opened up in 2021, LeAnn Townes communicated this information to us. Everyone with this program has been very instrumental with processing the grant money.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: The staff at Clermont County Support Services has been incredibly kind, communicative, and helpful in getting grants though. Their paperwork and requests can be overwhelming. Even so, they are exceptional with their follow-up and making sure that they have what they need from our residents. The staff is very respectful to our Thomaston residents and staff alike. It has been a pleasure working with them.

On the resident side, each resident has worked very hard to get in the information that they need. At first, many residents were a little embarrassed. What this program has taught us all is that are times when we might need help. It’s OK to accept help when times get tough. We truly believe that the residents, who qualified for rental assistance, will pay it forward. Some already have.