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Boise woman cannot qualify for rental assistance: 'I'm one step away from living in my car'

To qualify for the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program, an applicant can make no more than 80% of the area’s median income, leaving some people behind.

BOISE, Idaho — Regina Mason and her son live together in Boise, sharing an apartment and the cost of rent.

They are locked into a $1,800 per-month lease until August and already find themselves behind on their payments after her son missed six work weeks due to COVID-19.

"With him being half of my income, it really hit us hard," Mason said.

To qualify for the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program (ERAP), the applicant can make no more than 80% of the area’s median income. For a two-person home, that's $48,200 according to Boise City & Ada County Housing Authorities.

Annually, the Mason's dual income places them just above that threshold, rendering them ineligible for help.

"The income guidelines they have set out are for a years’ time span. Not the one month's help which we needed," Mason said.

This is not an uncommon situation, according to local rental assistance non-profit Jesse Tree. The agency said the demand for their services is up 300% since the pandemic began in March 2020. In 2021 alone, Jesse Tree received 3,500 applications.

Jesse Tree is able to help about one in every four applicants, according to Executive Director Ali Rabe.

"It happens to a lot of people who have a rapid income change," Rabe said. "But we're a non-profit. We have limited resources. We can only support a small percentage of people who come to us."

Anyone in need of assistance is encouraged to apply as Jesse Tree - like BCACHA - prioritizes the most vulnerable, Rabe said. Most often, that ends up being people making below the area's 80% median income threshold.

"People are living in their cars, and I'm one step away from living in my car," Mason said. "I've had my power turned off, my phones turned off, I've tried to get second jobs. And unfortunately, because this takes so much time, it interferes with my day job trying to get this help. I'm praying to God I can find something cheaper, but it doesn't look good around town."

People unable to qualify for rental assistance should develop a relationship with their landlord and set up a payment plan, according to Rabe. Jesse Tree has resources on their website to aid, starting that conversation and developing a payment plan.

The City of Boise said Wednesday that they are hoping to create more affordable housing through updates to the "outdated and confusing" zoning code. A series of outreach events are scheduled for over the next few months, both in-person and virtual. To learn more, click here.

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