The latest defense against the looming eviction crisis is $25 billion in rental assistance from the late December stimulus package. But experts say the relief isn’t enough to consider the problem solved.
“The remaining rental debts could still lead to a mass eviction crisis and irreparable damage to tenants’ credit and rental histories. Congress must enact further policies to protect tenants from eviction and address the long-term consequences of the rental debt,” says Mariel Block, Staff Attorney with the National Housing Law Project.
President Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion rescue package that includes another $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the moratorium. Whether Biden’s bill is passed, it will likely take time for rental assistance to reach people who need it. To expedite the process here is how to apply for rental assistance available to you.
Here’s how it works
The Treasury Department launched the $25 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to distribute the funds. However, the money won’t be distributed to your account like a stimulus check. Instead, states apply and funds are distributed based on need. Not every state will get the same amount. States will have their amount allocated by January 26.
According to the Treasury, an eligible household is defined as a “renter household that has a household income at or below 80% of the area medium.” Additionally, at least one or more individual living in the household must:
- Qualify for unemployment or have experienced a drop in hours or income at their job.
- Be able to demonstrate that they would be a risk of homelessness or housing instability without aid.
If eligible, a household could receive up to 12 months of assistance from the package, with the possibility of three extra months if states have additional funds. But this money doesn’t come in the form of a check. It can only be used for payments of rent, utilities or home energy costs.
How to apply
Many states and counties have created their own assistance programs to fill the gaps that federal protections have missed — but this can make it hard to keep track of state assistance since some programs are still being set up. The National Low Income Housing Coalition keeps an updated list of 550 state programs.
To check if your state or county already has rental assistance funds and whether you’re eligible, you can click here. If you can’t find enough data on your area, you can contact your state’s housing department, a local government website, or local housing groups to learn how to apply. The eviction moratorium currently is set to end January 31, though the possibility of it being extended through September is likely. But you’ll still want to apply as soon as possible to receive your benefits.
Sarah Saadian, vice president of Public Policy with the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told us, “We’re encouraging state and localities to make it as easy as possible for renters to apply. And really minimize the amount of red tape and additional hurdles that are put in place.”
What’s next for rental assistance?
As Americans wait for a possible round of funding from Biden’s administration, at some point, we have to wonder why renters were hit the hardest. “Rental assistance alone will not ensure the housing and economic stability of low-income renters,” Block adds. Extending the eviction moratorium and strengthening it so loopholes can no longer be exploited is an essential step. Most tenants are still not aware of the rights they have under the eviction moratorium.
“It’s really important that Congress shifts its focus to address the underlying structural reasons this pandemic has had such a broad negative impact on renters,” says Saadain. Whether through expanding housing vouchers (currently only every one in four people who need it receive one) as Saadain suggests or other means, action must be taken — or millions of renters could face the consequences of having a record of eviction.
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