Photo of dollar bills

Programs now helping renters with second round of Emergency Rental Assistance

Photo of dollar bills
“Money” ©

As eviction protections expire in jurisdictions around the country, state and local governments have scrambled to get federal Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) to desperate tenants behind on their rent.

While most state and local programs are focused on using up the first pot of ERA funds, some programs have begun tapping into the second pot of funding. This newer funding, called ERA2, has more flexible requirements that makes it easier for renters to get the help they need.

Last month, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) reported that 56 programs out of the 505 that it is tracking had started using ERA2 funds to help renters and landlords.

There are some key differences between the eligibility requirements of ERA2, and the first round of funding (called ERA1).

Income determination is the same; renters must have incomes below 80% of the area median income (AMI). However, determining eligibility because of COVID hardship is different. 

ERA1 rules require loss of income to be directly or indirectly related to the pandemic. ERA2 rules allow eligibility if there is a loss of income for any reason, as long as it happens during the pandemic. That includes loss of income since March, 2020, when the emergency declaration was made by then-president Trump.

For ERA1, assistance must first be used to reduce back rent and utilities before a household may receive payments for current and future rent. This can put a tenant further behind while their rent arrears are processed. ERA2 funds do not have this restriction, and may be more helpful for tenants facing immediate threat of eviction.

Programs using both pots of ERA funds together can also extend the time that renters receive assistance. ERA1 funds can be used for up to 12 months of assistance, arrears and forward months combined. A household can qualify for another 3 months of assistance to maintain housing stability. However, renters can receive up to 18 months of ERA1 and ERA2 assistance combined.

According to NLIHC, state and local programs have started using ERA2 funds for several reasons. Some programs ran out of ERA1 funds and started using the new money. Some programs have been running ERA1 and ERA2 programs at the same time. Other local jurisdictions did not set up programs for ERA1 funds, but are setting up new programs with ERA2 funds.

Programs that have used ERA1 and ERA2 funds at the same time often do this because ERA2 funds have more flexible rules. ERA2 funds have more flexible eligibility and documentation requirements. ERA2 funds can also stretch assistance out longer than using ERA1 funds alone. This is very important as the pandemic continues to drag on.

As the pandemic continues to drag on, desperate renters still need assistance. State and local ERA programs have the resources that low-income renters need to keep a roof over their heads. The problem is getting those funds to those who need them the most.

Some members of Congress have noticed this need to get renters their assistance as quickly as possible. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) has introduced the Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act. This legislation will require all ERA programs to take steps that are proven to get help quickly to the renters before they lose their homes.

Too many states have left their low-income renters behind during the pandemic. With millions of dollars at their disposal, 18 states still did not manage to get more than 15% of their funds to desperate renters by the end of September. 

Congress provided state and local governments with the means to keep their residents from eviction. It is now up to these state and local governments to deliver.