Business & economy

Malheur receives federal aid to help homeless afford places to live

Some homeless people in Malheur County are getting additional help to afford a place to live under a new federal program.

The Malheur County Housing Authority was issued 21 vouchers to cover a variety of costs for moving people into housing. The emergency housing voucher is federally funded through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Kristy Rodriguez, executive director of the Housing Authority, said the extra help allows local providers one more way to help the homeless population.

So far, she said, vouchers have been used to move a family into housing after it had been living in a motel for months. A mother with children who fled an abusive home also now has a place to live.

The program provides help with deposits, utility costs and monthly rent. It’s open to those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, victims of domestic violence or those fleeing the threat of such violence, and those in human trafficking.

“The Housing Authority has never had something like this,” Rodriguez said.

She said her agency is allocated $130,000 a month for the program, which covers administrative costs as well as the housing assistance.

She said the amount of help depends on an individual or family’s income, with full rent help possible for those without an income.

Rodriguez said the emergency housing program is less restrictive than most federal housing programs, such as Section 8. She noted that certain criminal convictions that would keep someone out of the Section 8 program aren’t a bar to the new program.

So far, seven vouchers have been awarded.

The Housing Authority works to help find people a place to live.

“It has been very challenging,” Rodriguez said. “There is a lack of housing in the area.”

Those interested in tapping the new help apply through the local nonprofit Community in Action.

Priscilla Garcia, who manages housing programs at Community in Action, said her agency assesses the needs of people, including housing, and will refer them to the Housing Authority if it’s a good fit.

She said the new emergency program lasts longer than other relief, but that the shortage of housing remains a challenge.

“We’re doing our best,” she said.

Rodriguez said that if someone with a voucher subsequently finds housing outside of Malheur County, such as in Fruitland, the voucher can be transferred to another agency.

Garcia said that to apply for the emergency help or learn more, people can call Community in Action at 541-889-1060.

Rodriguez said the housing agency doesn’t directly accept applications for the emergency vouchers.