Gwinnett County’s renewed emergency housing assistance program aims to support the community’s most marginalized populations — low-income households and those most strained by the coronavirus pandemic.
During a Tuesday press conference, county officials debuted Project RESET 2.0, a federally backed program that provides money for folks struggling to pay rent and utility bills amid the public health crisis.
To qualify, a renter must have a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median income, and they must have qualified for state unemployment benefits or be able to show they experienced a COVID-19-related loss of income.
That’s a relatively low bar for eligibility, though, and Gwinnett officials want to ensure the $28.1 million in federal stimulus funds are used to aid those who need it most.
So, according to county commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson, “Priority will be given to households at or below 50 percent of the area median income and to households with one or more individuals who have been unemployed 90 days or longer.”
“If you fit these criteria and you’ve fallen behind on rent, you don’t have to rely on the eviction moratorium to be able to stay in your home,” Hendrickson added. “We want to ensure our residents have the ability to get out of trouble with up to 12 months of arrears.”
The updated assistance program takes pages from the county’s original Project RESET playbook and improves upon the tactics used by the $6 million predecessor.
For example, the initial, CARES Act-funded program — which, officials said Tuesday, intervened in more than 1,300 potential evictions and helped 3,791 individuals remain stably housed — only provided help paying rent, and only for up to six months.
Project RESET 2.0, however, allows renters, landlords and utility companies to apply for help paying all manner of housing-related costs, including, of course, rent, as well as utility bills and other crucial expenses.
“We all know that electricity, water, gas and internet access are truly essential for everyday living,” Commissioner Marlene Fosque said on Tuesday, nodding to the reliance on virtual education and remote working spurred by the pandemic.
Additionally, the revamped program affords eligible applicants up to 15 months of total assistance, including up to 12 months of help for rental and utility arrears.
The program is even accessible for people who don’t have internet access, according to Matt Elder, director of Gwinnett HomeFIRST, which is helping administer the program.
“If people don’t have access to the internet, there are multiple ways in which they can apply,” he said during the press conference. “We have open office hours just upstairs from 8 to 5 Monday through Friday where members of the community can come in and speak with an application specialist and fill out the application on-site. They can also access our call center” — 770-822-7501 — “and we’ll walk them through any questions they may have.”
The county also teamed up with Neighborly Solutions to provide the online application portal, which is navigable in English, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese, Elder said.
(Header image, via Gwinnett County: County commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson announces the launch of Project RESET 2.0 during a press conference.)