Rental, utility, mortgage help available in Woodburn
Families from Woodburn, Hubbard and Gervais that are still feeling a financial sting related to the pandemic are urged to contact the city of Woodburn.
Last year the city introduced its rental assistance program with the objective of keeping people in their homes if circumstances related to COVID-19 crimped incomes and resources to the point of falling behind on rent payments.
That program has since expanded to help people with utility payments and even mortgages to some extent.
Woodburn received a $450,000 community development block grant, which furnished funds for the program, and the city has since partnered with PGE and Northwest Natural to strengthen programs helping households falling behind due to economic effects stemming from the pandemic.
Working with partnerships has allowed the city to leverage its funding and resources to maximum efficiency.
"When we first started, we were just doing the rental assistance, and then this past December added mortgage assistance and utilities," said Maricela Guerrero, Woodburn community relations manager. "We added the utility assistance because we discovered as we were helping families get up to date on rent, some households still had large utility bills to contend with."
Stressed rental conditions initially were alleviated statewide by a moratorium on evictions, but that ended last June. Meanwhile, some stretched household budgets were equally unable to keep up with utility bills during the economic slowdown.
"We needed to work on how we can assist those households and get them to where they could move forward," Guerrero said.
Program resources provide enough to help a qualifying household pay up to six months of back bills. Resources are not available to pay future bills. Rental assistance also is limited to back bills, up to six months; mortgage payments are limited to three months, but if the situation requires more extended assistance, the city can refer homeowners to other appropriate agencies.
"We've been able to develop good relationships with PGE and Northwest Natural to help get those accounts up to date where they are not carrying a past-due bill," Guerrero said.
Eligibility for the program hinges in part on income requirements. The other stipulation for this program is that the setbacks causing the delinquency must be pandemic related.
Pandemic stipulations are varied; household income could have been depleted by the loss of a job, a COVID-19 illness, forced closure or downturn of a business, or a person may have had to quarantine, forcing absence from work.
"For some families, taking two or three days off work can really throw you off your finances," Guerrero said.
Woodburn is not exclusive in offering this type of program. Marion County has a rental assistance program, and the State of Oregon offered one as well, though it is currently not accepting new applications.
Woodburn's localized program has the advantage of being more personable, which can ultimately be more helpful.
"Our program is smaller than the state program; it's smaller than Marion County's program. So, we are able to do a more one-on-one (needs assessment) with people, and if there are other resources needed that are not in our program, we are able to provide (guidance)," Guerrero said, mentioning the local food bank and Center for Hope & Safety as examples of potential agencies to where people may be referred.
"That's why we work with these partners," she added.
"The auspices of emergency rental and mortgage … is about getting people up to date and current on their finances so the risk of eviction is not there or the risk of shutoff is not there," Guerrero said.
The city of Woodburn also recently partnered with Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency to help residents with water and sewer utility bill payments.
Residents may be eligible for assistance with regular or standard payments and/or crisis payments.
If needed, MWVCAA also may assist with energy utilities. For information about that program eligibility, call 503-588-9016 or visit mwvcaa.org/programs/energy-services/.
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