Norwalk joins forces with non-profits to launch $500K Housing Relief Program, aiding those hit hard by COVID-19 challenges. Monette M. Ferguson, executive director at Alliance for Community Empowerment, speaks about the program. Oct 23, 2023. Katherine Lutge/ Hearst Connecticut Media
NORWALK — The city of Norwalk and local nonprofits have partnered to create a COVID-19 Housing Relief Assistance Program, funded with $500,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act.
”We know in, especially in Fairfield County and throughout Connecticut and actually many other places, housing is getting much more expensive,” Mayor Harry Rilling said when the program was announced on Monday. “People are having much more difficult times paying their mortgage, paying their rent, and that could be a struggle, especially after COVID, with people losing their jobs, people not being able to return to work.”
Norwalk residents who experienced economic hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic, have an income 75 percent below the median, and have been residing in the city since March 2020 may be eligible for up to two months of rent, mortgage, or utility relief payments.
“This fund will provide significant economic relief to households who are at risk of experiencing housing instability by offering rental arrears, temporary or rental assistance and limited mortgage relief,” said Norwalk’s Chief of Community Service, Lamond Daniels. “This program will continue until all the funds are depleted.”
“This is a special unique program that is really for folks that fall between the cracks,” explained Monette M. Ferguson, executive director at Alliance for Community Empowerment. “These are folks who are over income for some of the Alliance programs, but they’re under income and under resourced to make ends meet and to really be sustainable in their housing issues.”
Federal and state grants were targeted at individuals with incomes significantly below the median, while this program aims to assist Norwalk’s working class who may have missed paychecks, incurred debt or experienced reduced wages due to the pandemic.
“We’ve seen a lot of people who took on debt during the pandemic, more than half of our clients borrowed from family and friends, in order to get through the pandemic,” said Nancy Coughlin, chief executive officer of Person to Person. “So they’re now carrying high levels of debt, whether it’s consumer debt, credit card debt, medical debt, and that’s really making it hard for them to make ends meet. Now, the biggest factor when people come to Person to Person for assistance is housing and the high cost of housing.”
Addressing this gap was a key concern raised by nonprofit and community leaders, as Daniels explained.
“This program is unique in that we’re talking about the working class, people who are just stuck, maybe along (the way) lost wages, was unemployed for a period of time, and this program was designed specifically for this group of individuals to support them to get them going,” Daniels said. “They already have jobs. They’re doing the best that they can, but this is just a support to really uplift them. So they continue to have stability in their houses situation.”
“This is not just a Norwalk issue; this is a national issue across the country,” Daniels emphasized.
According to a report from the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, 42 percent of Norwalk residents cannot afford basic necessities with their current income, compared to the statewide average of 38 percent.
“These are long-term Norwalkers who have lived here their whole lives who are really struggling to stay here in their homes where they work and where they live and where they have families,” Coughlin said.
The program commenced on Monday, Oct. 23. Residents who qualify can reach out to the Alliance for Community Empowerment and Person to Person for assistance or visit https://www.norwalkct.gov/2386/Community-Resource-Referral-Form.