By Lee Roop

All Madison County Commissioners unanimously voted to expand the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to help Madison county residents of Alabama pay their rent and utilities. Pictured left to right is Commissioner Phil Riddick – District 5; Commissioner Craig Hill – District 3; Commissioner Steve Haraway District 2; Chairman Dale W. Strong; Commissioner Violet Edwards – District 6; Commissioner Tom Brandon – District 1; and Commissioner Phil Vandiver – District 4.
Huntsville public housing property

More than $5 million in new funds is now available to Huntsville and Madison County to help pay rent and utilities for people hurt financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds can also help landlords who lost income because of their tenants’ COVID problems.

Madison County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to expand the county’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program to residents of Huntsville. The county had not helped city residents earlier because Huntsville had a separate program and its own federal allocation of $6 million for the same purpose.

“Today, we decided to start immediately,” County Commissioner Violet Edwards said after a commission meeting. The county had planned to wait until September to help inside the city, but Edwards said, “After looking at the numbers and seeing where the need is and realizing that we have money, it’s just time to move forward.”

Edwards said the financial trouble must be COVID-related. “Whether they attracted COVID, whether their job cut hours, whether they could not work because they were helping someone, it has to be COVID related,” she said.

This week, the Biden administration ordered a new, limited moratorium on evictions through Oct. 3 citing the need to prevent the spread of the virus. Whether that moratorium could survive a court challenge by landlords isn’t clear. In June, the Supreme Court voted to allow a moratorium to remain in place through the end of July, even though one justice in the majority, Brett Kavanaugh, wrote that he believed government lacked authority to order it. Extending the moratorium any further, Kavanaugh wrote, would be possible only with “clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation).”

Congress has not acted. Neither the House nor Senate had the votes for a temporary extension, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not indicate Tuesday that she would try to move legislation through the House.

The money from both city and county funds is federal money given to states and local governments to help renters pay current, past due and up to three months of future rent, utilities and home energy costs. The goal is to prevent evictions and housing struggles caused by COVID. That includes people who lost work because they had the disease, their place of employment closed or their employers cut their hours.

The money is for people who:

1. Pay rent on a residential dwelling in Madison County (and) …

2. One or more people in the household has qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a cut in household income, faced significant costs or experienced other financial hardship due to the COVID-19 outbreak (and) …

3. Can show a risk of being homeless or housing instability (and) …

4. Have a household income at or below 80 percent of area median income. Median income in Madison County is $32,588 for an individual and $65,449 for a household.

To learn more and apply for the county funds, click here. If you have questions, call 1-844- 804-9454 Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 7p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (The Associated Press contributed to this report regarding the eviction moratorium)