UNION COUNTY, NJ — The county anticipates spending most of a $2.6 million federal grant towards rental assistance for county residents, in anticipation of housing affordability issues caused by the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Most of the money will go towards housing assistance, though plans have not been finalized, said Union County Communication Director Sebastian D’Elia, after a virtual public hearing on the grant's amended action plan held Tuesday night. At the hearing hosted by the county Community Development Revenue Sharing Committee, county officials stressed the need for housing assistance, an issue they anticipate becoming worse over time.

“There is still a moratorium on evictions,” said Deputy County Manager Amy Wagner. “We are not even scratching the surface of what we're going to have to deal with in the coming months when those restrictions are lifted. We're going to have a lot of problems.”

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The monies will come from the third round of Community Development Block Grant-Coronavirus funding from the CARES Act. The county received an initial round of funds in May used for rental assistance, totaling around $2.7 million, according to Director of Community Development Brandon Givens. The CARES Act provided a total of $5 billion nationally in CDBG funds. 

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which runs the CDBG program, at least 70% of each grant must assist low or moderate-income residents by funding “housing, a permanent job, a public service, or access to new or significantly improved infrastructure.” The other 30% can be used “to eliminate slum or blighted conditions,” or other urgent needs.

Following comments at the public hearing, county officials said they would also consider assistance for homeowners who had lost jobs.

The county identified Plainfield, Linden, Rahway, Roselle, Roselle Park and Hillside as municipalities with the highest level of need in its amended 2019 action plan. All municipalities except for Elizabeth and Union Township are under the county’s jurisdiction for CDBG funds, as they receive funds directly from HUD.

The county anticipates receiving the funds in late January, officials said. It is not the first round of federal housing assistance the county has received for distribution during the pandemic.

Earlier this month, Union County announced it would be distributing $1.3 million in federal funds for residents who have fallen behind in rental payments as a result of job loss or income reduction.

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