Columbus, Franklin County get over $120 million windfall in federal rental assistance

Central Ohio is suddenly swimming in a pool of emergency rental assistance cash due to the Biden administration's reallocation of unused federal COVID-19 relief funds to fight evictions.

Since the U.S. Treasury began the reallocation in late January, Columbus and Franklin County received over $120 million combined — a windfall so large that officials are quietly scrambling to figure out what to do with it all.

"It's huge; it's just monumental," said Carlie J. Boos, executive director of the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio. "The amount of resources that Columbus and Franklin County got combined is more than anywhere else in the country. Our central Ohio region got more resources than all of California put together and all of New York (state) put together."

Other Ohio cities and counties also scored big — Toledo got $34 million; Hamilton County $36.6 million; Cuyahoga County $25 million; Butler County $2 million; and Clermont County $1.4 million — after winning competitive performance-based grants, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The vast majority of the cash must go toward rent and utility assistance for low-income residents, not to help pay mortgages, Boos said. But it also allows for "stability services," such as eviction mediation, and up to 25% could go to subsidize the construction of new housing units for very low-income residents, she said.

Boos said her understanding of the federal rules is that the 25% would be multiplied against the city's total rental-assistance amount since the start of COVID-19. The city puts that amount at $130 million, meaning potentially more than $30 million of the remaining rental assistance could potentially go toward the construction of low-income housing.

Federal officials are impressed with central Ohio's decentralized system of distributing rental and utility assistance, which involves dozens of community social services agencies, Boos said. Anyone wanting to find out more about the programs, which are available for both tenants and landlords, can do so at

During a May 1 City Council hearing, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said the city "had received over $500 million in federal relief funds to date," without mentioning that total included a $68-million windfall just this year specifically for rental assistance. In his almost 10-minute address, he largely went over how the city spent its federal assistance money since the start of COVID-19.

When Ginther asked whether the city had received any more rental-assistance money lately, Finance Department employee Kali Harris said it received the infusion of $68 million — part of its federal dollars reallocated from the state of Ohio to local governments — in the past few months. Harris said it was unclear whether the city could get even more rental dollars in the future.

The City Council has scheduled a second hearing for 4 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, during which various departments "will give presentations on potential plans to invest the remaining funds."

On top of the rental assistance windfall, the city is also sitting on $70.5 million in unspent American Rescue Plan Act COVID relief money that it also must determine how to use and $16.4 million in federal Housing and Urban Development money distributed for COVID assistance programs such as affordable housing.

In all, Columbus must spend $152 million in federal COVID relief funds, with varying deadlines over the next few years.

City Development Director Michael Stevens said during last week's hearing that Ginther's plan involves spending part of the rental money on an emergency resource pool to provide "immediate" resources to tenants "involuntarily displaced due to property owner negligence," which presumably would include situations like the closure of the Latitude Five25 apartment towers. Another portion would go to a homelessness prevision pilot program and to fund "housing resource specialists" at nonprofits around the city.

Stevens also said there is the "possibility of using a portion of (Emergency Rental Assistance) funds for the development of affordable rental housing." Before COVID, the city had spent on average about $1 million a year on rental assistance programs, he said.

On top of the city allotment of rental assistance, Franklin County has received another $55.6 million in federal funds since late January, which county spokesperson Tyler Lowry said is an exciting development that county commissioners are beginning the process of determining how to spend.

In late January the U.S. Treasury announced it was redistributing $690 million in unspent COVID rental assistance, in essence because some agencies weren't spending it fast enough, and "would not be able to fully deploy available funds during the program’s lifespan."

The first tranche of redistributed funds went to only 89 state and local grantees across the nation, including Columbus and Franklin County.


This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus, Franklin County get over $120 million in federal rental cash