How to apply for rental assistance using Yakima County's new online portal – Yakima Herald-Republic

Home page for Yakima County’s online rental assistance portal. 
Login page for Yakima County’s rental assistance portal. 
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Home page for Yakima County’s online rental assistance portal. 
Login page for Yakima County’s rental assistance portal. 
Yakima County residents can apply for rental assistance using a secure online portal that went live Tuesday.
Assistance is available for households that have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and need help covering rent or utility payments.
Yakima County Human Services Director Esther Magasis said the online portal makes the application process more accessible and efficient than the original program, which relied on in-person or phone appointments with local service providers.
“The program was sort of built on the fly as grants became available through the state and federal government,” Magasis said. “As the program grew, it became clear we needed to shift our model to keep up with the capacity required to process all applications that were coming in.”
Yakima County has spent about $14 million on rental assistance programs since September 2020, according to data provided by Magasis. As of January 2022, the county had helped 2,987 households seeking rental assistance. People who live anywhere in Yakima County can apply.
Magasis said the county is still partnering with local service providers, but the online portal is an option with other added benefits, including extra security measures, automatic notifications as an application moves through the process, and improved data collection.
In an interview, Magasis answered questions about the application process and how to use the online portal.
The link to the portal, which is available in English or Spanish, can be found on the Yakima County Human Services homepage at www.yakimacounty.us/2333/Human-Services.
Magasis said there is a portal where tenants can apply for assistance and a portal for landlords to start the process. If a landlord submits information first, staff members will reach out to the tenant, she said.
To be eligible for assistance, the household must be in Yakima County, at or below 80% of the area median income, and experienced financial hardship or a reduction of income from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the website. U.S. citizenship is not an eligibility requirement of this program.
Magasis said the county will prioritize applicants who are at or below 50% of the area median income. The majority of people who had received assistance as of January — about 85% — were at or below the 50% threshold.
“We want to ensure that as it becomes more accessible, we’re making sure those who have the highest need are served first before resources run out,” Magasis said.
Magasis said proof of income and some type of written lease agreement have to be submitted with the application, but there’s flexibility with the document type.
The portal shows W-2s; pay stubs; retirement, unemployment or disability statements; child support; public assistance; attestation from an employer; leases; eviction notices; rent ledgers or payment forms; self declarations; utility bills; and W-9s are all eligible document types.
Once an application is submitted in the portal, employees will review the application for completeness and reach out to the landlord or tenant if they need additional information, Magasis said. If it’s approved, it will take about two weeks for a payment to be made, she said.
The assistance can be used for rent or utility payments, including electricity, gas, water, sewer, trash removal, energy costs and internet.
Magasis said a notification email will be sent to the tenant at each step of the process, and the landlord and tenant will be notified when a payment is made.
“By moving to an online portal, we were able to automate a lot of these steps, and so we’re able to add more communication with applicants,” Magasis said.
The online portal includes features to prevent duplicate or illegitimate applications, Magasis said.
Each resident starts the application process by creating an account, which they’ll use for every application they submit, Magasis said, and the portal won’t let someone create a second account with the same identifying information.
“If you want to apply multiple times for rental assistance, you have to do it all through your profile,” Magasis said.
Households can apply to have up to 15 months of past, current or future rent or utilities paid, depending on what is owed. Data provided by Magasis showed that the median payment amount was $3,028, and households received payments for four months on average.
Duplicate applications were screened out in the previous program, she said, but having a central application portal increases that protection.
Staff members will take extra steps to verify information in the applications, like checking the business owner or property information against county records.
The system doesn’t automatically decline an application if something is flagged. Employees are able to review it and ask questions, she said.
“It does help us increase that security to have, again, an automated system in place to check that,” Magasis said.
Community partners are still available to assist residents and landlords in person or over the phone and submit an application on their behalf, Magasis said. Partners include the Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic, Opportunities Industrialization Center of Washington, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services and the Latino Community Fund.
“We do still have that on-the-ground support in person with local agencies that serve our community,” she said. “We want to make sure that going in person to apply for rental assistance is an option that’s available for people who want it and not a hurdle that’s necessary for everybody.”
Mediation and conflict resolution is still available for landlords and tenants through the Dispute Resolution Center, Magasis said.
Residents outside Yakima County can find rental assistance providers and resources at the state Department of Commerce rental assistance site.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the list of community partners and the types of notifications landlords and tenants will receive. 
Contact Kate Smith at katesmith@yakimaherald.com.

Yakima County has distributed about $6.5 million in rental assistance through a lottery system, but frustrations continue as evictions to soon become a reality again.
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