Stylized photo of a "Past Due" marked envelope with a pair of reading glasses sitting on top.
Photo courtesy of Marco Verch / flickr

The D.C. Department of Human Services held an information session on June 8 for tenants, members of the public, and advocates to receive updates on reforms to the Stronger Together by Assisting You (STAY) D.C. program. 

The STAY D.C. program provides funding to tenants whose income was reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic to pay past and current rent and utility bills. The city allocated $352 million in federal relief funds for the program in April to help residents during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. STAY D.C. offers applicants assistance for up to 12 months, with an option of three additional months. 

As of June 8, applications from 11,012 tenants and 8,606 housing providers had been submitted, according to DHS data. The program has processed 5,372 applications where both tenants and housing providers submitted an application. Since the beginning of the program 1,795 applicants have been approved with payments being processed. 

More than $13 million in rental assistance and $325,000 in utility funding has been used, leaving $339 million yet to be distributed 

Given this excess of funds compared to applications, DHS is encouraging more tenants to apply. City representatives explained that while landlords need to respond to tenant applications within 10 days or the application process will proceed without them, there is no specified time limit in which applicants will hear back. More than 3,000 applications are still under review: 1,314 are in the initial stages and 2,030 are in the final review process to determine applicant eligibility. 

STAY D.C.’s application process, however, faced criticism from D.C. advocates and social workers who commented on a confusing application process. The application software is not mobile-friendly, making it challenging for some low-income residents to apply online, according to advocates. D.C. government representatives explained new reforms that aim to provide increased support, including home visits to tenants, paper applications, and biweekly email updates to applicants.

Attendees at the feedback session also expressed confusion about what documents are necessary. The STAY D.C. application requires applicants to demonstrate how they lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is not always easy for people experiencing housing insecurity. Social workers called for more guidelines for tenants filling out self-attestation documents that stood in as demonstrated loss of income. 

Some tenants at the event also said they hoped funds could be sent to their landlords at a faster rate, highlighting long delays after their applications were approved. Efficient distribution of payments is especially important as the federal funding must be fully used by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, when any remaining federal funds have to be given back to the U.S. Treasury Department.

CORRECTION (06.21.2021)

This article has been updated to reflect that all $352 million for STAY D.C. is federal funding and that $13 million (not $1.3 million) had been spent as of the June 8 briefing. We initially reported that some of the funding came from local tax dollars and would not be lost if the District failed to distribute enough aid by September.