As the pandemic has dragged on, millions of low-income renters kept their homes because of the national eviction moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Now that the Supreme Court has struck down the CDC order, what can renters expect as they try to hold off eviction? The help that you can get depends on where you live.
Some states still have eviction protections
Some states still have their own eviction moratoriums in place. Most of these eviction protections will expire soon, although some may be extended as the Delta variant continues to spread. But right now, there are just a few places where renters are still protected from eviction.
Four states and the District of Columbia have eviction bans in place. The moratorium in Illinois expires on September 19, while California eviction protections will go through September 30. DC and New Jersey will halt evictions through January. 2022. New Mexico’s eviction moratorium does not have an announced end date.
Some states are halting the eviction process if a tenant has applied for rental assistance. Minnesota, New York, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington suspend eviction proceedings while renters are waiting to hear about their emergency rental assistance applications. Other states may add this protection in the weeks to come.
Some local courts are taking action
Some local courts have adopted eviction diversion programs to help renters suffering during the pandemic. These programs promote mediation to help tenants and landlords reach repayment agreements. They have been very effective in keeping people housed, especially when renters can also receive emergency rental assistance to pay their back rent.
Some local courts are also taking other steps to help renters during the pandemic. Some courts will not hear an eviction claim until the tenant has been rejected for emergency rental assistance. In Illinois, for example, judges are receiving training on how to direct both tenants and landlords to mediation, rental assistance, and other resources.
Emergency rental assistance is critical
With limited eviction protections now available, low-income renters need to focus on how to pay off back rent to keep their homes. The federal government has provided $46 billion in emergency rental assistance to state and local governments around the country. There is plenty of money to help renters catch up on what they owe and make landlords whole.
The problem is that state and local programs have been slow getting funds to desperate tenants and landlords. When Congress authorized the emergency rental assistance earlier in the pandemic, it selected the Treasury Department to distribute funds to state and local governments. The agencies that received the funds from the Treasury, mostly Housing Finance Agencies (HFAs), had little experience managing rental assistance programs.
HFAs and local governments had to create programs from the ground up. It has taken time to develop program policies, draft application forms, create new websites from scratch, and market the program. These programs also needed to hire new staff to meet the tremendous demand.
Low-income renters have also been frustrated by complicated applications and very rigid documentation requirements. The Treasury has issued updated guidance that encourages programs to make it easier for renters to apply for assistance.
Treasury guidance encourages programs to streamline the application process for low-income renters. Programs should allow “self-attestation” by applicants for proving income eligibility, COVID-related hardship, and other criteria. This reduces the amount of documents that low-income renters must provide to prove their hardship. It also speeds up application reviews.
Many landlords have refused to accept emergency rental assistance payments. Congress authorized making assistance payments directly to tenants when landlords will not participate. The Treasury Department’s guidance has shortened the amount of time that programs have to wait to confirm landlord participation.
Many emergency rental assistance programs have also been overly cautious about fraud. Treasury guidance has pushed administrators to make applying for help easier. However, many programs continue to require lots of documentation, and do not provide payments directly to tenants when landlords will not participate.
There is a lot of unspent assistance
All of this means that only a small fraction of the emergency rental assistance provided to state and local governments has gotten to low-income renters. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s ERA tracking dashboard, only 29.9% of emergency rental assistance funds first provided by Congress have reached low-income renters. Sixteen states had spent less than 5% of their funding by July 31. In total, state programs had disbursed only 16% of the emergency rental assistance funds.
Local programs did a little better getting their funds out to renters in need. Local governments spent 33% of their emergency rental assistance by July 31. Still, nearly 50 local jurisdictions had spent less than 5% of their funds by that time.
The good news is that there is still a lot of funding left to help low-income renters hurt by the pandemic. The bad news is that there is a backlog, with over 2 million applicants nationwide by July 31, and only a little more than 1 million receiving their assistance by that time.
President Biden has directed all federal agencies to take what steps they can to help renters facing eviction because of the pandemic. This includes helping local programs get emergency rental assistance to renters and landlords more quickly.
Finding emergency rental assistance in your area
Even with federal resources available, renters will mostly depend on the performance of state and local officials to keep their homes. Getting emergency rental assistance is the most important thing for tenants who are behind on their rent. In many places, this will halt the eviction process. In any case, it will help renters catch up on back rent and utility payments.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a tool to find emergency rental assistance programs in your area. The site also explains how emergency rental assistance works, who it covers, and who is eligible. Affordable Housing Online also has Coronavirus Resources for Low-Income Households.