The COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program has been established to assist with both rent and utility bills for households experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19.  The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) began accepting applications for the program March 15, 2021. 

CERA provides up to 12 months of past-due rent assistance.  Of that 12 months, three months may be used for future rent.  Along with rent assistance, the program also helps with utility services such as electricity, water, sewer, garbage services (if billed along with other utilities), and home heating from any type of fuel.  These CERA funds may be used toward future utility bills as well.  There is also the possibility of a $300 internet stipend should applicants qualify. 

The CERA program is made possible through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021.  This provided the state of Michigan with nearly $285 million in funding. Eligible applicants include those whose 2020 household income do not exceed 80% of the area’s median income and meet the following criteria:

  • Households where at least one individual has qualified for unemployment benefits or has experienced a reduction in household income.
  • Households where at least one individual has incurred significant costs or has experienced financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak; and
  • Households with at least one member who can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability evidenced by a past due utility or rent notice.

To learn more about the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program, the qualifications, and the application process visit the CERA program’s website at

Remember: Applications must be submitted in their entirety to ESS.  Incomplete applications, including missing verification and supporting documentation, will not be processed.  Individuals will have 5 days to correct and/or submit all required documentation.  Failure to do so will result in applicants having to reapply for services.

The amount a person can receive depends on their income.  If your income is Very Low, or 50% AMI, up to 12 months of rental assistance may be available.  If your income is Low, or 50-80% AMI, up to 10 months of rental assistance may be available.  Applicants may also be eligible for an additional 3 months of rental assistance for housing stability.

Landlords may apply on behalf of their tenants by completing the necessary paperwork and submitting the appropriate supporting documentation.  That information can be found here.    

Emergency Shelter Services in Benton Harbor provides further assistance with the application at  There, applicants can download the application as a PDF and submit that application to  Call  (269) 925-1131 for more information. 

Ferry Street Resource Center is an organization here in Niles that can assist with the application process.  They are located at 620 Ferry St.  Visit them at , or call at 269-687-9860.  

Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency can also provide further assistance with the application.  Call (269) 925-9077 ext. 881 to speak with Linda. 

Customers are encouraged to take advantage of this program to stay current with their utility bills and avoid getting too far behind on payments. Customers struggling with their bills can also log onto or call 2-1-1 for additional funding resources.

Though the City of Niles does not have staff working for the CERA program, they may be able to answer questions.  Please contact us at 269-683-4700 ext. 3022

For homeless services in Berrien County, please call The Connection at Emergency Shelter Services at 269-277-5055.