Bryan Butcher

CEO/Executive Director of Alaska Housing Finance Corp.

Beginning June 15, Alaskans whose income has been hurt by COVID-19 can apply for a chance to receive rent or mortgage assistance from federal funds provided through the state to the Alaska Housing Finance Corp.

The statewide corporation aimed at helping lower-income Alaskans avoid homelessness is launching its Alaska Housing Relief lottery, which will be open for application June 15-26.

The use of the term "lottery" to describe a program designed to help individuals in dire straits may seem like a bit of a misnomer, but the application is no cost –– only described as a lottery to represent the randomized award system for eligible applicants.

Not all Alaskans will qualify for the assistance. Those who hope to receive up to $1,200 to help cover rent or mortgage payments will need to provide information on how much they pay each month in rent or toward a mortgage, what their household income was pre-pandemic and how much they lost in income due to COVID-19-related business closures and layoffs.

The Alaska Permanent Fund dividend counts toward the annual household income, but the recent federal stimulus check does not. Similarly, state unemployment benefits count toward annual household income, but federal unemployment enhancements do not.

The award amount is topped off at $1,200. Those in the most need will receive the full amount, while those who have less of an urgent need will receive less.

Those who do not fall under 80% of the area median income will not qualify. The AMI is calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development using federal information from entities including the IRS to determine an average household income for a certain region.

The relief payment excludes the cost of utilities and covers only the interest and principal of a mortgage. For example, families who have bundled home insurance payments into a monthly mortgage payment will not be able to use the award money to cover insurance costs.

The program will use the $10 million provided to the corporation as part of Gov. Mike Dunleavy's distribution plan for the federal CARES Act funding provided to the state last month.

AHFC spokesperson Stacy Barnes estimates the program will provide assistance to 8,000 to 12,000 Alaskans, depending on the level of need and individual payments provided to applicants. A small portion of the $10 million may be used for administrative costs, she said.

Ultimately, AHFC Executive Director and CEO Bryan Butcher said it's better for individual Alaskans' health as well as the state's fiscal situation to avoid higher levels of homelessness.

“Our data shows that it’s better to keep Alaskans stably housed through prevention efforts both in terms of their mental and physical health but also as a cost-effective measure,” he said.

The lottery process has been used by AHFC for previous assistance programs and has proved functional in the past, Barnes said. Additionally, excluding a first-come, first-serve process allows for the corporation to provide information regarding the program to as many Alaskans as possible from now until June 26. Getting information out to the more-remote rural communities that may have a need for the funding will take longer, Barnes said.

The application period opens Monday morning and will close at 11:59 p.m. June 26.

The randomized selection process for awardees will likely happen that weekend, and the verification process of needs will begin shortly after.

If selected, a recipient will be asked to provide additional information verifying a loss of income and contact information for their landlord or mortgage servicer. After submission and verification of the required information, AHFC will make a direct payment to the landlord or mortgage servicer on behalf of the recipient. The hope is to have payments made in time for August due dates, Barnes said.

"The speed with which we can get funds to landlords and lenders will largely depend on how long the individual verification process takes," she said.

Those hoping to qualify can check their eligibility by visiting the program website www.alaskahousingrelief.org. Individuals unable to access the online application can call or text 833-440-0420 to learn about application alternatives.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.