12 Responds: Viewers continue to voice frustrations with rent relief program

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EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — RentReliefRI is a federal program created to help those affected by the pandemic pay their bills.

But 12 News viewers continue to write in saying they’re struggling to receive payments.

“I needed help right then, but I wasn’t getting it,” recalled Anastasia Streich, a renter who said she applied for assistance in June.

“My employer had closed my department down and I was only there for six weeks,” she added.

Over the past four months, Streich said she’d call to find out the status of her application, only to learn the documents she’d uploaded had somehow gone missing.

“When you have emails that say you sent the same documentation to several different people … it’s just very frustrating,” Streich said.

Streich isn’t the first person to write into 12 Responds after having problems with RentReliefRI. In May, landlord Denise Adopante expressed frustration with the program, having applied when it first launched.

“They’re asking for information that they already have,” Adopante said.

In July, Stephanie Barbusci said she too ran into problems with uploading her documentation.

“The same documents to upload at least five times — the same document — and it never gets uploaded,” Barbusci said.

And just a few weeks ago, Katrina Nerney reached out to 12 News after months of calls and emails left her searching for answers.

“One person will tell you something’s fine, and then when you call next time, no one has any idea what you’re talking about,” Nerney explained.

12 News went to the Rhode Island Housing office to speak with RentReliefRI spokesperson Chris Hunsinger, but she was unavailable. She released a statement, saying:

“The call center staff has been retrained based on the new guidance issued by Treasury, each representative has an assigned case load so that applicants are dealing with one individual to complete the process, and information received from the call center is an accurate report of where that application is in the process at the moment the applicant calls.”

Streich said she reached out to U.S. Sen. Jack Reed’s office. While Reed said the program is doing what it’s supposed to, he admitted he has some concerns.

“The money’s available and it’s just not getting out,” Reed said, adding that despite the program’s commendable efforts, he continues to hear from constituents about it.

“They find some confusion and they’re confronted by some complex issues,” he said.

As of Thursday, data from RentReliefRI’s dashboard showed that out of the 5,549 applications submitted, 3,744 have been approved.

Hunsinger also said the backlog of applications from when the program launched has been cleared, and “the program is approving over a million dollars in applications a day.”

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