Thurston County plans to stop accepting new applications for rent assistance payments on June 15 due to dwindling funds.
Tom Webster, Office of Housing & Homeless Prevention manager, shared the news with the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday.
He told The Olympian Thursday he doesn’t expect the county to reopen the program anytime soon, but rent assistance may return in a more limited form by the end of the year.
The cutoff will not affect people who were transferred from the county’s previous rent assistance provider, Community Action Council of Lewis, Mason and Thurston Counties, he said.
Thurston County abruptly canceled its contracts with CAC in February, after a county audit identified suspected fraudulent applications. The move temporarily paused payments and left many renters in limbo.
LiveStories, a Seattle-based company that took over from CAC, started processing the backlog of 1,025 CAC applicants on March 30, prioritizing those most in need. The company has since distributed about $3.1 million in rent assistance to 321 applicants, Webster said.
However, the total backlog has grown by at least 900 since May 2 when they began accepting new applications, The Olympian previously reported.
The county board recently approved more funding and plans to approve additional funding next week. Even when factoring in that funding, Webster told the board there may not be enough aid for those who submit new applications between June 1-15.
“We are telling folks that their applications will be processed but we may not have sufficient funding to fund all the applications,” Webster said.
First priority goes to applicants with eviction notices on file, Webster said. After those, he said LiveStories will focus on applicants that were transferred from CAC before considering newer applicants.
“We have multiple teams working on those applications,” Webster said. “But because there’s lots of information, we’re just going through them as quickly as possible. … There’s no kind of sub-priority or method. We’re just going through them kind of randomly within that group of CAC applications.”
The county passes funding from a mix of local, state and federal sources to providers such as LiveStories that then assist low- and middle-income households.
On Tuesday, the board unanimously approved an interagency agreement with the Washington state Department of Commerce, accepting $7.5 million in additional funds for the rent assistance.
Next week, the board will consider whether to direct $6.3 million of those funds to LiveStories and $800,000 to Community Youth Services (CYS).
Part of the funding will go to CYS because the state requires 10% of the funds to serve those who are 18-24 years old and emancipated 16- and 17-year-olds, according to county documents.
Webster told The Olympian he expects rent assistance funding to continue being available through CYS for several more months, but it is limited to young adults.
On May 24, the board approved a new $1.7 million contract with LiveStories. They also approved an amendment to their initial $5 million contract with the company, adding $2.2 million.
Looking ahead, Webster said he anticipates the county will start receiving a permanent funding source of rent assistance from the state Department of Commerce later this this year.
The state will fund the new program using document recording fees it collects when people purchase or refinance a home, he said. The state legislature set up the means for the program last year with House Bill 1277.
However, county officials still don’t know when exactly the funding will arrive or what specific guidelines it will have.
“We are waiting to get more information from the state on the details of that program,” Webster said. “I expect that the qualifications and criteria for accessing those funds will be narrower and more targeted than the current rent assistance funding.”
The funding amount for this new program will be substantially less than what the county has received during the pandemic. Initial estimates indicate the county may receive around $2 million per year, he said.
Webster said the county has spent close to $30 million in rent assistance since 2021. That does not include the $7.5 million the county accepted on Tuesday, he added.
Residents who need rent assistance after June 15 and have not previously applied with LiveStories will have one less option for help.
“It’s challenging, certainly, to recognize that there’s not going to be enough resources to meet the needs in our community once these resources are exhausted,” Webster said.
People with eviction notices can still use the Eviction Resolution Pilot Program at the Dispute Resolution Center. The program, created by Senate Bill 5160, helps mediate negotiations between tenants and landlords before resorting to evictions.
“They should make sure they’re fully aware of their rights before going through an eviction,” Webster said. “They do have a right to negotiate a repayment plan with their landlord.”
Webster pointed to other providers who may be able to help renters, such as Community Youth Services and Family Support Center. Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services can also offer advice, he said.