Updated December 9, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only been a health crisis, but it has also had a devastating financial impact for many. One of those people is Anisha Mohammed. She lives in Newark and because she couldn’t work during the height of the pandemic, she is four months behind on her rent. With eviction protection set to expire at the end of 2021, she fears losing her housing.
“I couldn’t go to work and then I just started back at work this year,” Mohammed explained. She paid her rent as long as she could until she exhausted her savings.
Mohammed and many other Newark residents have applied for the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). ERAP funds will pay up to 12 months of past-due rent and up to three months future rent for accepted applicants.
Such funding can be a lifeline for those in need, including Mohammed who has three children and a grandchild living with her.
“This would be helpful until I get back up on my feet because now I’m working,” she said. “I want to qualify for money for the back rent because you still have to pay the one in front.”
New Community is one of the community-based organizations that partnered with the City of Newark to help connect residents financially impacted by COVID-19 to emergency rental assistance. The city’s ERAP program, which began in July, was so successful that applications had to be stopped on Dec. 10, prior to the original extension to Jan. 7, 2022.
New Community personnel met with applicants and assisted them throughout the application process. They scanned and input necessary documentation, set up email accounts for those without them and made sure applicants had all necessary documents for a complete application. They also followed up with applicants if additional information was requested.
“As a landlord, New Community is vested in our residents, neighborhoods and the community. We are assisting those that need help in applying for eviction relief funds,” said NCC Chief Operating Officer Fred Hunter. “No one wants to see families being evicted. Also, this time of the year children should be enjoying the holiday season and not worrying where their family will be living come winter.”
In addition to assisting ERAP applicants, New Community personnel participated in outreach to encourage more people to apply. They handed out information at events, put flyers in food boxes and displayed program details in prominent community areas.
Those who received ERAP application assistance with New Community also got information about other programs and services available to them.
“We never let people come for just one service,” said New Community Family Resource Success Center Director Joann Williams-Swiney. “We try to make sure all their needs are met. Many of the residents who come in for ERAP also apply for the energy assistance program.”
Mohammed was prescreened when she called about ERAP and obtained a dual appointment for the ERAP and energy assistance applications. Williams-Swiney helped Mohammed apply to both programs.
In addition to benefit programs, ERAP applicants are also introduced to New Community’s many offerings, including educational opportunities at New Community Career & Technical Institute (NCCTI) and the Adult Learning Center and behavioral health care provided by Family Service Bureau of Newark (FSB).
Applicants can also be assisted in other ways. During Mohammed’s appointment, she said she was having electrical issues and a rodent problem that hadn’t been addressed by her landlord. Williams-Swiney contacted the city’s Code Enforcement office on Mohammed’s behalf and provided her with additional information surrounding those issues.
“This is why it’s important to take a little time with people. Because there are bigger pictures in many cases,” Williams-Swiney said. “We want to do what we can to try to help them holistically. Not just do the application and send them on their way.”
According to Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, the city has distributed or committed its full $20.3 million allocation to more than 1,800 households, which made it necessary to stop accepting ERAP applications early.
New Community can still assist those who started applications but have missing information or need additional follow-up. Those who did not have the opportunity to apply to Newark’s ERAP are able to access the Essex County ERAP portal at https://portal.neighborlysoftware.com/ERAP-ESSEXCOUNTYNJ/Participant or apply at the Essex County Division of Community Action, 50 South Clinton St., East Orange.
To assist residents who missed the opportunity to apply to Newark’s ERAP, New Community is hosting Essex County ERAP personnel on Dec. 14 and 15 who will help residents apply for assistance through the county program.