King County to audit eviction prevention and rental assistance payments made during pandemic

DCHS says they gave out a unprecedented $318.5 million in funds to thousands of households.

Following the unprecedented distribution of $318.5 million in funds to thousands of King County households through the Eviction Prevention and Rent Assistance Program, the Department of Community and Human Services is seeking a thorough third-party audit of all payments, alongside several additional safety measures to prevent misuse.

The Department of Community and Human Services says the agency’s goal remains to maximize all available funds for assisting eligible EPRAP applicants and that recovering inappropriate payments is an important part of helping eligible households.

In an effort to distribute funds at a faster rate, the U.S. Treasury created rules on self-attestation, meaning renters could provide written statements attesting that their household meets eligibility requirements. King County quickly adopted these guidelines to accelerate distribution of funds, while also instituting internal controls that would detect and monitor for waste, abuse, and misuse.

Since mid-February, DCHS and community provider staff have detected 130 potential cases of inappropriate applications or payments, totaling less than one percent of the total funds distributed. Of the 130 cases, 30 were caught prior to the distribution of funds. For the remaining cases, issues range from identity theft (14%), potential misrepresentation in the tenant or landlord leasing documents (60%), or were flagged by a financial institution fraud department or third-party report (26%).

“After multiple months administering $40 million or more in rent assistance to thousands of households, we see clearly that there will still be unassisted applicants when we exhaust EPRAP funds in May. Seeking more funding, continuing to process applications, and recovering inappropriate payments are all ways to keep helping as many people as possible. We take all cases of inappropriate payment seriously, and we created strong internal controls from the beginning to minimize cases of inappropriate payment or abuse,” said Leo Flor, Director of DCHS.

Flor said that the program did not exist before March 2020, and a community-wide coalition quickly created what is now the largest client-serving DCHS program to prevent likely homelessness for tens of thousands of people. He said DCHS will continue to work with local jurisdictions to recover funds while protecting people’s identities, and review all payments, alongside our community-based partners to identify cases of misuse and redirect those funds to households in need.

Currently, 7,831 households have pre-registered but are not yet assigned a provider, and DCHS is working to recover misused funds and redirect them to these tenants. DCHS is also working with community-based partners to follow best practices in identifying cases of misuse, partnering with local law enforcement on specific cases, and reviewing all payments in a thorough reconciliation process and shifting unexpended funding to rent assistance and eviction prevention support.

In addition to paying rent assistance, the EPRAP program also funds the Housing Justice Project to prevent eligible households from being evicted at the courthouse. As the eviction moratorium in Seattle ended, DCHS saw an increase in tenants utilizing the eviction prevention supports as part of EPRAP. Since February 28, the Housing Justice Project has distributed $2.8 million in funds to further prevent households from eviction in the courts.