Garland County to vote on distributing COVID relief funds to housing crisis

As the trillions of dollars in pandemic relief funds dry up, Garland County leaders are considering earmarking $60,000 for rental and utility assistance.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — As the trillions of dollars in pandemic relief funds dry up, Garland County leaders are considering earmarking $60,000 for rental and utility assistance as housing advocates warn of a looming eviction crisis in the new year.

“Without assistance, everybody in this whole equation is hurting due to the pandemic,” said Boyce Mitchell, the director of a program that helps chronically homeless through Ouachita Behavioral Health and Wellness.

The people showing up asking for his help are different in the last few weeks. 

“Here recently, people who have never reached out for assistance, thought they would never be homeless have been reaching out,” he said.

Mitchell says it is because relief checks are long gone but jobs for some remain hard to hold. 

A nationwide eviction moratorium has been a levee against a rising tide, but that levee is about to break, as the federal government lifts the limits and past due bills abruptly become due.

“It’s pretty bad,” Mitchell said. “I have been able to help some people by educating them on the moratorium, but a lot of landlords are hurting just like the people that they’re trying to assist.”

Monday night, the Garland County Quorum Court will take up a resolution to point to last of the CARES Act money that came to local governments. If approved, the Community Services Office of Garland County would manage the program.

Other groups like United Way of the Ouachitas and the Salvation Army are hoping for new grants to arrive in the new year for programs they administer. 

Mitchell says advocates will spread that money as best they can.

“We meet every couple days and we’re trying to come up with some plans to kind of fill in the gaps,” he said. “We’re getting a bigger influx of people than we’re used to handling, and it’s much bigger than us. We need assistance from everybody.”