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Thurston faces large backlog of rent assistance applicants

Thurston faces large backlog of rent assistance applicants
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Nearly two months after being hired, Thurston County’s rent assistance provider is still processing a large and growing backlog of applicants.

LiveStories, a Seattle company, had distributed about $2 million to 203 households as of Thursday, according to Elisa Sparkman, rent assistance supervisor at the county’s Office of Housing & Homeless Prevention.

The company started processing a backlog of 1,025 applications on March 30 with priority for those most in need. Despite recent efforts, the backlog has only grown in recent weeks. Since May 2, Sparkman said about 900 new applications have been submitted.

Thurston County entered into a $5 million contract with LiveStories in March. The move came after the county suspended its previous contracts with Community Action Council of Lewis, Mason and Thurston Counties on Feb. 24, citing suspected fraud uncovered by a county audit.

The suspension disrupted rental assistance payments for weeks and a schism erupted between the county and CAC. Though payments have resumed though LiveStories, slow processing times have left many renters in limbo.

LiveStories has been prioritizing applicants facing eviction proceedings, such as clients of the Eviction Resolution Pilot Program at the Dispute Resolution Center. Staff will then focus on CAC clients before considering those with newer and less urgent needs.

When asked, Sparkman did not provide a timeline for when the CAC backlog will be completed.

Tom Webster, Office of Housing & Homeless Prevention manager, told the Board of County Commissioners on April 5 that it would take weeks to process the backlog of client files from CAC.

To help LiveStories process applicants, the county has brought on additional staff from the Washington state Department of Commerce.

“We expect that will also increase our ability to work through the backlog so we can continue to kind of plug away at that,” Webster said during last week’s Board of County Commissioners meeting.

LiveStories also has added internal capacity as well as staff from the Thurston County Office of Housing and Homeless Prevention, according to Sparkman.

In the meantime, the county has directed additional funds to LiveStories. On Tuesday, county commissioners unanimously approved a new, $1.7 million contract with the company.

Webster said this contract reallocates rent assistance funds that CAC returned to the county after its suspension. In May 2021, the county received the funds in a $6.9 million allocation from the US Department of Treasury before passing it to CAC.

The commissioners also unanimously approved an amendment to the county’s initial $5 million contract with LiveStories. This amendment adds $2.2 million in unspent funds that were previously issued to CAC, Webster said.

These additional funds came from a contract with the Washington state Department of Commerce, Webster said. In March 2021, the state awarded the county $10.2 million for emergency rent and utility assistance activities and later amended the contract to add $12 million, according to an agenda item summary.

The county took two separate actions on Tuesday to direct more funding to LiveStories because the funding came from different sources.

Anyone who needs rent assistance can visit Thurston County’s program website for instructions on how to apply online.

People who are served eviction notices should add it to their online application or email the county at RentAssistance@co.thurston.wa.us, according to Sparkman.

Several partner organizations also are helping people in certain communities apply for rent assistance.

  • Family Support Center of South Sound can be contacted at trap@fscss.org or 360-754-9297.
  • Senior Services for South Sound helps those 60 and older. They can be contacted at assistance@southsoundseniors.org or 360-586-6181 extension 135.
  • Community Youth Services helps those who are ages 18-24. They can be contacted at RentSupport@CommunityYouthServices.org or 360-280-8114.
  • CIELO helps those in the refugee and immigrant community. They can be contacted at Cristian@cieloprograms.org or 360-968-0571.
  • SafePlace Olympia helps those experiencing and surviving domestic violence. They can be contacted at safeplace@safeplaceolympia.org or 360-754-6300.
  • HTC Innovations helps those in the indigenous and Native American community as well as survivors of human trafficking. They can be contacted at erap@innovationshtc.org or 360-706-1262.
  • Thurston County’s Office of Housing and Homeless Prevention helps clients from the Dispute Resolution Center and applicants who don’t fit into the populations served by the other organizations. They can be contacted at RentAssistance@co.thurston.wa.us or 360-490-7648.

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