Sunday, November 28, 2021

Local News

UniteCT Offers Emergency Rental, Utilities Assistance

Although life after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 is resembling a return to normalcy for many in Chester, Deep River, and Essex this year, some residents continue to feel a severe impact.

According to UniteCT Director Dawn Parker, many of these residents rely on extra income to meet their basic household necessities, through second jobs or extra hours, and these opportunities were taken away once the pandemic hit.

“They might work multiple jobs or overtime or whatever to pay their bills, but then if one thing goes wrong, everything can fall apart really fast and…obviously the pandemic is that thing that went wrong,” she said.

Parker is now helping to administer the UniteCT Program of the Connecticut Department of Housing, which offers up to $15,000 in rental and electricity payment assistance to eligible Connecticut residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

These households are eligible if they earn up to 80 percent of the HUD area median income levels in Connecticut towns. The levels differ based on the number of people in a household. For a family of four in Chester, Deep River, and Essex, that is about $78,000.

Many of these people work locally as waiters and waitresses, janitors and cleaners, office clerks, and food preparation and service works, according to a 2020 United Way report on Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) households. An ALICE household earns more than the federal poverty level, but below a basic cost-of-living threshold.

According to the United Way’s website, 26 percent of residents in Chester are defined as an ALICE household, 32 percent of residents in Deep River are defined as an ALICE household, and 20 percent of residents in Essex are defined as an ALICE household.

“It’s our workforce,” said Parker. “So, if people in our workforce have fallen behind, then we can catch them up. They just need that lift up and out.”

Although the UniteCT program is for renters facing financial hardship, Parker said it also can positively benefit landlords in the local area.

“So, if they have tenants that have been suffering because of COVID and not paying, then it really impacts [the landlord’s] whole financial picture and their ability to pay their taxes, do upgrades, pay their own bills,” said Parker. “The ripple effects in small towns are really, really local hardships on the economy.”

At the end of September, various local social services groups, including the Chester Community Partnership Committee and Tri-Town Youth Services, collaborated with the state to host a UniteCT Mobile Bus event in Deep River. The bus provides the technology and personnel support to complete and submit an application to UniteCT for rental and utility assistance.

Parker said there are plans to have the bus return to the local area sometime in October. The bus schedule is available by visiting portal.ct.gov/DOH/DOH/Programs/UniteCT.

“It will come back and anyone in the community could actually work together to host the bus,” said Parker, adding that part of the program’s success is creating awareness that assistance is available.

In Chester, Deep River, and Essex, 28 tenants received help paying approximately $180,760 to landlords through the UniteCT program, according to Oct. 7 data from UniteCT’s dashboard.

In Chester, 12 renters received help paying approximately $2,422 in utilities and $75,991 in rent. In Deep River, 11 renters received help paying approximately $3,812 in utilities and $62,669 in rent. In Essex, 5 renters received help paying approximately $858 in utilities and $35,007 in rent.

Although tracking data on how many people have been helped through UniteCT is important, said Parker, the bus event allowed her to make personal connections.

“I could see those faces in my community that are getting help,” said Parker. “It becomes real for people.”


Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at e.reinhart@shorepublishing.com.

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