Since the program was announced on Tuesday, over four thousand households have applied for help paying off overdue electric and rent bills using $235 million of federal COVID aid to Connecticut.
The payments are available to landlords of tenants who are earning up to 80 percent of the HUD median area income. The application process requires tenants and landlords to work together to complete designated sections of the application for assistance. They can start the application process online.
The program, called UniteCT, can provide landlords up to $10,000 in rental assistance and up to $1,500 in assistance for overdue electric payments. Households will be prioritized if they earn less than 50 percent of the area median income or if one or more person has been unemployed for at least 90 days before they applied for assistance.
The Department of Housing said those four thousand applications have been started, but not necessarily completed. No money has been distributed yet, and it’s too early to know how much money those households are seeking without knowing each household’s circumstances, according to the department.
“UniteCT provides Connecticut tenants and landlords a much-needed fresh start and further assistance so our families can get back on their feet without worrying about the roof over their heads,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a news release. “The pandemic exacerbated a national housing affordability crisis, especially for families of color who are more likely to rent their homes and more likely to have missed payments through no fault of their own.”
The program represents a huge increase over what the state doled out for rental assistance from the first COVID aid package Congress approved last April – including $26.7 million for short-term rent relief, $5.8 million for rehousing people who were homeless or leaving prison or jail, and $5 million to support renters who were facing eviction before the pandemic.
The federal pandemic relief bill Congress passed in December designated $25 billion for rent and utility relief programs, including $235 million for such programs in Connecticut. Another $1.9 trillion relief package approved last week includes another $21.55 billion for rent and utility relief nationwide.
If each household were seeking the maximum amount of rental assistance, they would be seeking about $40 million in total. That is likely just a fraction of the assistance needed, considering unpaid electric bills from Eversource and United Illuminating alone account for hundreds of millions of dollars.
On Monday, Eversource reported to regulators that 831,686 residential electric customers had unpaid bills. The amount due on bills that were more than 30 days old continued to increase in March, and now totals more than $299 million. The amount of bills overdue by more than 4 months also increased, and totals more than $199 million.
United Illuminating reported Friday that it has 238,609 customers with unpaid bills, with $110.3 million overdue by more than 30 days, and $88.3 million overdue by more than 4 months.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has not yet approved any electric utility to start disconnecting electric service over unpaid bills, but both Eversource and UI have filed plans to do so and are waiting for approval.
The new program does not include assistance for other utility payments, like gas or water. Eversource reported that customers of its affiliate Yankee Gas owe $50.4 million on bills more than 30 days overdue, and $29.5 million on bills overdue by more than four months.
Aquarion Water, a subsidiary of Eversource that started disconnecting customers with overdue bills in early February, and is the only utility currently authorized to shut off residential customers for not paying their bills, reported to regulators on Monday that it had 1,785 customers enrolled in payment plans, with a total balance of $1.23 million – $689.11 per customer. Aquarion is re-connecting customers when they enroll in a payment plan, and it enrolled 351 new customers in payment plans in February.