Goskagit

Skagit County will offer an assistance program for low-income homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments due to COVID-19.

The county commissioners have allocated federal CARES Act funding for the program, which is set to start Oct. 1, Sarah Hinman, community services division manager with county Public Health, said at a meeting with commissioners Monday.

With much of the COVID-19 relief funding going to assist renters, Hinman said the commissioners wanted to ensure there was help available to struggling homeowners.

To qualify, she said households must be able to show they lost income due to the pandemic, and must be earning less than 50% of the area median income — $2,617 per month for a family of two and $3,267 for a family of four.

Hinman said the funding should be able to help about 100 households, at a maximum of $6,000 to cover late mortgage payments.

Application information will be available on Public Health’s website, and at its offices in downtown Mount Vernon, she said.

Also at the meeting, the commissioners were updated on a $1.4 million rental assistance program for 300 to 350 low-income families who have been unable to pay rent because of the pandemic.

The Eviction Rent Assistance Program, funded with federal CARES Act money, will pay up to three months of rent for eligible households, at either 80% of the total or a value equalling fair market rent, whichever is larger, Hinman said.

However, representatives from three of the county’s nonprofit partners voiced concern that landlords are not accepting the terms of the agreement, and threatening to pursue eviction rather than accept less than what they’re owed.

Hinman said she’s heard of four landlords who have objected to the program. Nonprofits have just started processing applications and reaching out to landlords, so it’s too early to tell whether this will be a significant problem in the county, she said.

Mary Wahl, supervisor with Catholic Community Services’ Farmworker Center, said in the meeting that an appeal to landlords should hit two talking points.

First, she said eviction is an expensive, time-consuming process, and landlords may not understand that it’s not an easy way to recoup costs.

Second, Wahl said the nonprofits need to appeal to landlords’ compassionate side, and remind them they’ll be helping more members of the community by accepting payment from this program.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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