Application period opens in Juneau for up to $2,000 in COVID-relief housing grants

Sabrina Bracher poses for a photo along Egan Drive in Juneau on Sunday. Bracher was laid off from a bookkeeping job in April and hopes to get housing relief money from a new city program. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The application process opens at 8 a.m. Tuesday for the City and Borough of Juneau’s latest COVID-19 housing and utility relief grants. Qualified households financially impacted by the pandemic can get up to $2,000.

Sabrina Bracher of Juneau said she’s going to jump on it.

“I actually got the little tab saved on my Facebook so I can get in there and try to get it done as soon as possible,” she said.

She was a bookkeeper for a nonprofit whose income is tied to fishing and fish processing, which took a big hit. She got laid off in April.

“It was weird, you know? Going from my everyday 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, office clothes and makeup everyday to like — ‘Well, it’s Monday, I don’t have anything scheduled. Guess I’m just going to stay at home today.'”

She picked up some gigs, including cleaning homes, but said it’s scary because it’s irregular and there are no benefits.

She said she was in good shape through the summer because of the normal unemployment payments plus the extra $600 a week in federal pandemic relief. When the extra benefit expired at the end of July, she scrambled to make her rent.

She cashed out her retirement savings and applied for rental assistance through the Alaska Housing Development Corp.

“I tried to do that, but it was a lot of hoops to jump through. And in the end, I made too much money from my unemployment to qualify,” Bracher said.

The Juneau Assembly funded both programs with federal CARES Act money. But this new program has $3 million to award instead of $200,000, looser eligibility criteria, and was widely publicized, including through mailers to every residence in Juneau.

Eligible households must earn less than $94,240 a year. Applicants must also provide documentation of their finances and describe how they were impacted by COVID-19.

The nonprofit Catholic Community Services is administering the program. Executive Director Erin Walker-Tolles said the impact could be from losing a job or working reduced hours because of pandemic shutdowns, but working parents may also be eligible.

“Because their kids aren’t in school, they’re having to pay for child care,” Walker-Tolles said. “And so they have increased expenses, not reduced income.”

She said there is a lot of interest.

“In fact, we received so many hits when the first announcement went out that it crashed our website,” she said.

The website is working now. Paper forms will also be available at City Hall and through curbside pickup at the city’s libraries.

The city has an end-of-year deadline to spend its CARES Act money. That said, Walker-Tolles doesn’t know what sort of turnaround time to expect.

“We’re not sure how many applications we’re going to get out of the gate, whether we’re going to be flooded, or whether they’re going to trickle in bit by bit,” Walker-Tolles said. “So honestly, I don’t know yet. We’re going to do our best to keep up.”

She said one lesson from a similar program in Ketchikan is that incomplete applications really slow things down. She specifically asks people applying to make the COVID-19 connection to their hardship clear in their paperwork.