NEW MILFORD — The town has approved $200,000 for its social services department to help those in need of rental assistance and home or personal emergencies.
In a unanimous vote at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, $100,000 each was approved for the town’s Good Samaritan and Good Hope Funds.
In a presentation, New Milford Social Services Director Ivana Butera said the Hope Fund has been housed in social services for over 15 years. “It’s an eviction prevention or a prevention from being behind in mortgage program,” she said.
“Over the years, we’ve helped several hundred families fill that gap.”
The Hope Fund has been used when there’s a financial crisis that causes residents to fall behind on their rent. The fund may provide residents with a security deposit to get into a new place or catch them up when they’re behind in their mortgage.
Butera said while the Hope Fund has never provided the entire amount of someone’s rent, “it’s been a wonderful stop gap that has enabled the town to partner up with others, as well as with what the client has to contribute.”
For those who are behind on their rent, Butera will give the funds directly to the landlord.
If the Hope Fund is used for a security deposit, landlords have an additional form they need to fill out, pledging to secure the funds in a separate account.
To qualify for the fund, residents must provide their income information, which is pay stubs and bank statements. They also need to give proof they’re residing within New Milford.
“We ask them what they are behind in their rent and then we then call the landlord to confirm the situation,” she said.
The base amount of assistance social services provides has always been $250. However, the department has been able to go up to $500.
The Hope Fund serves about 40 to 60 residents on average per year, giving out from $25,000 to $40,000 on average, with the exception of the past year, due to COVID-19.
The Good Samaritan Fund is Social Services’ general emergency fund. It annually serves on average of $30,000 to $35,000, and approves an average of 166 grants per year.
This fund provides help with costs such as a car repairs, license renewal, home repairs, a child’s tuition, and an emergency medical or dental visit.
“It assists somebody in maintaining their house, their person or the people within their home,” Butera said.
Both funds that have been approved at the meeting are charitable funds under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 “to help pull communities out of the effects of COVID-19,” Butera said. “Under that allocation, it’s up to the community to propose how to spend the money.”
Prior to this act, the funding for both the Hope and Good Samaritan Funds was generated from the community, Butera said.
The additional money “will help the town to help more people to a greater degree,” Butera said.
Originally, New Milford Mayor Pete Bass proposed the amount of $60,000 for each fund. However, Town Council members said they thought that number wasn’t sufficient and, instead, proposed $100,00 for each.
“There’s a consensus that evictions are just getting started,” said Butera, adding rents have been increasing and many have been struggling.
“One of the things that we’re very concerned about is that some of the rents are going up and becoming unreachable,” she said, adding many residents may need to move to another home but don’t want to leave town to do so.
“Our programs are meant to be a piece of the puzzle. We just never have the funding to say we can supply a whole month’s rent,” Butera said. “The bottom line is we hope that once everything is caught up, that the landlord would be able to sustain the relationship with tenants so they can maintain their housing without any sort of increase.”
Residents can apply for the Hope Fund and Good Samaritan Fund once a year.
“If we have somebody who is coming back more than once to apply, there is probably a bigger, systemic issue that we didn’t catch the first time,” she said.
Residents don’t necessarily have to have a job to receive the funds but they have to have the means to move forward, Butera said.
Also at the Town Council meeting, a unanimous motion was approved for $7,500 to replace a Food Bank refrigerator and stand-up freezer. This amount also coming from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“They are small residential refrigerators that are getting opened at least 150 times, if not more, every Tuesday,” Butera said.
Once the additional amounts that have been allocated to both funds are used up, Social Services will “continue to support the community with whatever charitable funds we are able to acquire like we have for the last many years,” she said.