"Prior to the pandemic. I was Executive Chef at the Sheraton Downtown Wilmington. When this thing hit, a lot of hospitality places were shut down, and we were no exception," Andre Frantone explained to a gathered crowd as he began to get choked up. "I got laid off; I've been laid off for a year this month. So I'm appreciative to all you guys, to show up every day and do what you do, because without you all me my family would probably be homeless."
Frantone, a resident of The Flats, was on-hand alongside a number of Delaware city, state, and federal officials Friday to celebrate the Delaware Housing Assistance Program's (DEHAP) injection of new funding and revamped program guidelines.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a hardship for thousands of Delawareans, and the program was created to help residents keep a roof over their heads. With the First State receiving $200 million in federal emergency relief funds, Delaware will now be providing 12 months of rental assistance--with a possibility of up to 15 with extension approval--to cover rent arrears dating back to April 2020, as well as current and future rent due.
"It's a hell of a lot easier to do the things that we had to do in a state of neighbors like ours, than in larger states in the region and around the country," Governor John Carney said. "I want to thank [Delaware State Housing Authority Director Anas Ben Addi] and his team for keeping people in their homes; for coming up with the rental assistance and the mortgage assistance programs; and for the work that you will do as we accelerate out of this pandemic and put those relief funds to good use."
Rent will be paid through the DEHAP program directly to landlords and property managers, which has already provided $15 million in rental assistance to 4,188 families since the program first launched in March 2020 due to COVID-19-related job loss or income reductions. It was paused briefly due to overwhelming need, and reopened in August of that year, accepting applications through this past December.
Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki explained how this program is a perfect example of officials leading via the Delaware Way.
"There is this huge portion of this country that's struggling, and this is just, to me, such an effective way of saying, 'We've got to even this thing out somehow, some way, even if it's clumsy along the way,'" Purzycki said. "As mayor of a city that has just so many problems, it's just got so many challenges--we have 26% poverty, we have high crime, we've got so much joblessness--and there are days when you can feel a bit despairing of the possibility of turning this around. And then someday, someone throws you a lifeline."
DEHAP detailed the main criteria for receiving aid as a household being at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for the county in which they reside, but applicants at or below 50% of the AMI and households with individuals who have been unemployed for at least 90 days will be prioritized.
The application process will go live on Monday, March 22, 2021, at DECOVIDHousingHelp.com or by calling 1.866.935.0407.
"All these things that keep our family flowing, the part you guys are playing and helping with the rent is really, really important. And people need it. Not just my family, there's thousands and thousands of families all over the world that needs this help and support right now," Frantone said. "So I just want to say thank you to everybody who gets up every day and shows up to make it a little bit easier on people like me. I know there's light at the end of the tunnel and we're on our way."