State, city dollars combat homelessness in Douglas County

Rental assistance is available even if people are not facing eviction.

Symbol of the house and stick the key in the keyhole
Symbol of the house and stick the key in the keyhole

Housing help is available for people impacted by COVID-19, but they have to apply for it.

On May 19, the city council approved spending $417,000 of its enhanced Community Development Block Grant funds on homelessness and housing resources. Of those dollars — made possible by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — $62,000 was earmarked for Superior hotel vouchers through Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency.

“That’s the largest infusion we’ve ever had in one chunk of hotel voucher money,” said Chief Executive Officer Millie Rounsville, comparable to what the agency gets each year from the state for all five counties it covers: Douglas, Ashland, Bayfield, Iron and Price.

“We spent half of it in the first three months.”

Rounsville said some weeks the agency was spending up to $8,000 a week on hotel vouchers in Superior alone. As of last week, spending on vouchers was down to roughly $3,500 a week over the entire five-county area. It’s a sign of the economic crisis trickling down, said Superior Mayor Jim Paine.


“When you start to see unemployment that goes over 10%, you’re going to see an uptick in homelessness,” Paine said. “A lot of people have a mistaken view of what homelessnes looks like. Usually it looks like long-term hotel stays.”

To prevent the need for vouchers, the agency is pouring the additional $300,000 of CDBG money, as well as enhanced Housing and Urban Development funding and Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program dollars, into keeping people from becoming homeless.

The state rental assistance program, funded through the CARES Act, provides up to $3,000 to homeowners at or below 80% of the county’s median income for rental assistance, provided their economic hardship is COVID-19 related.

“You don’t have to have an eviction; you just need to be behind (on rent),” Rounsville said, and the aid can be spread out in multiple payments.

Whether the individual has lost their job or just had a reduction in income as a result of the pandemic, a family of four with earnings of $57,000 or less is eligible for assistance, she said.

The agency received $412,000 to cover the five-county area, she said, and as of last week, the state had paid out $96,000 of that to landlords. While Rounsville is used to seeing a need for rental assistance in larger population centers like Superior and Ashland, the recent applications have covered a wider geographic area. Rural addresses like Ogema, Fifield and Cable have been included, and most are filed by people faced with unemployment.

“We’ve never served these people,” Rounsville said. “They’re not tenants that we’ve worked with, they’re not people that were signed up at our food shelves. They’re not our normal customers.”

She encouraged everybody who qualifies for rental assistance to apply. It can be done through mail, email or cell phone screen shots without ever setting foot in the office.


The funding is limited, although Paine said the city is reviewing its CDBG money.

“We’re also watching Congress pretty closely in the hopes that they finally reach a deal and provide more relief money that we can put back into the community that way,” Paine said. “That’s how we spent the lion’s share of the last relief package and probably the next one as well.”

Visit Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency online, call 715-392-5127 or email .

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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