TRENTON — Ahead of the day’s major announcement, the impending lifting of New Jersey’s COVID-19 school mask mandate, Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday reminded residents of a crucial funding round for which eligibility opens this week. .
Applications will begin accepting at 9 a.m. Tuesday for the state’s $325 million Rescue Emergency Mortgage Assistance, or ERMA, program.
In the form of a two and a half hour hearing hosted by the Assembly Housing Committee last Thursday showed, help does not come a moment too soon.
With COVID-era eviction moratoria expiring, foreclosure rates in the Garden State are expected to rise in 2022, but affordability alone isn’t the only issue, according to Melanie Walter, executive director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
“There are currently 3,876 homeless people in our state’s approved housing programs,” Walter said. “They have support to pay for housing, but there is no unit available for them.”
The persistent shortage of available housing, especially those designated as affordable, coupled with New Jersey’s still high unemployment rate relative to the rest of the post-COVID United States, presents a unique and difficult problem to address.
And it disproportionately affects the state’s black population, said Taiisa Kelly, CEO of Monarch Housing Associates, the organization that oversees the annual statewide homeless count.
“While they make up about 13% of the state’s population and about 22% of the state’s poverty-stricken population, they make up about 50% of the population identified as homeless,” Kelly said, adding anecdotally that three times as many people are becoming homeless in New Jersey right now and falling out of the system.
She said New Jersey is not on track to reduce homelessness as it stands, given a price tag of at least $262 million, which is 16% of all COVID relief funds intended for housing assistance in the state so far.
Maura Sanders, chief attorney for New Jersey Legal Services, said even for those who still have a roof over their heads, education and awareness are just as important as affordability and availability.
“We urgently need additional funding for rental assistance to deal with this pandemic fallout because so many people contacting us didn’t even know it,” Sanders said. “They thought they weren’t eligible, they didn’t know what was available.”
On Monday, Murphy said the state is taking steps to make that help more readily available.
“Free housing advice will also be available to help homeowners seek help, guide them through all the options available and even work with their mortgage companies to get the best possible outcome,” said the governor.
To learn more about ERMA or start an application visit njhousing.gov or call 855-647-7700.