If you’re a renter or landlord trying to stay afloat amid the now-expired eviction moratorium as announced last week, there is still plenty of money left in the government’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
Roughly 90% of the ERAP funds are up for grabs to help housing providers and their tenants pay their overdue and future rent, utility bills and some additional fees depending on the state. If approved, applicants can receive up to 18 months of financial coverage to keep a roof over their heads.
While there isn’t a universal application process, here are a few things that will help landlords and tenants navigate the process.
Finding Your Program
States and localities have some flexibility in setting up programs, leading to some confusion over where and how to apply.
Resources to help mitigate the chaos of ERAP options:
– Search Tools: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the U.S. Department of Treasury have set up search tools for renters and landlords to look up ERAP assistance in their respective states.
– Call 2-1-1: Most states use one of these formats to provide information on where to access services in their community.
“Our database is searchable by state, and what’s nice about it is that it outlines all of the programs [in a specific state] and how to find the program,” says Sarah Gallagher, senior project director for NLIHC’s Ending Rental Arrears to Stop Eviction (ERASE) program.
The organization’s tool also provides information on critical requirements and attributes of that program, including whether a selected program provides direct-to-tenant assistance or self-attestation of income of COVID-19 hardship.
“Those attributes are vital for both landlords and tenants to know at the outset, so they know what kind of documentation they need before they apply,” Gallagher says.
Most applications can be filed online or on the phone, and some programs allow landlords and tenants to apply for rental assistance.
Are You Eligible?
While each state’s program varies in structure, there are a few general stipulations that applicants have to follow to qualify for rental assistance.
According to CFPB guidance, renters need an agreement to pay rent for their homes or mobile home lots. It doesn’t need to be a signed lease, and the dwelling can be an apartment, house, mobile home or another residence.
Government identification will also be required.
Eligibility is also contingent on an applicant’s financial status.
At least one household member qualifying for unemployment must have written proof of lost income or financial hardship due to the pandemic.
Household income also has to be at or below 80% of area median income based on the NLIHC’s ERAP database. Some programs may require either a written statement or documentation depicting income.
Lastly, at least one household member has to show that they are at risk of becoming homeless with proof of “housing instability,” like:
– A past due utility or rent bill or eviction notice
– Evidence that you live in unsafe or unhealthy living conditions
– Other documentation that the program asks you for
Application selection also varies among programs and states, but several ERAPs opt for first-come-first-served or lottery systems.
Mind the Hurdles
Even if applicants qualify for rental assistance and apply, there are a few hurdles that applicants should expect, particularly extended wait times to receive funding after filing.
“I’ve heard applications can take weeks or up to three months,” Gallagher says, adding that despite the extended wait, landlords and tenants will still be paid for accruing rent during that period.
“I understand that can be frustrating, but that’s where the communication between the landlord and tenant and the ERA program is critical,” adds Gallagher.
She recommends landlords with a substantial amount of affordable housing units or eligible tenants provide information proactively to collaborate with their occupants.
The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) recently released a sample script to help landlords contact tenants and walk them through the rental assistance process or request permission to apply on their behalf. The NAHB has additional resources for property managers and landlords on their organization website.
The Treasury Department recently imposed several changes to help expedite the ERAP process, including allowing self-attestation, covering debts incurred to appear in court on rent-related matters, and allowing state and local grantees to partner with nonprofits to assist at-risk households while they await application processing.
Many ERAP application processes are digital, which can also create a challenge for applicants, according to Nicole Ryan, a spokesperson from the National Association of Apartments.
“For those renters with limited or no access to the internet, we encourage communication with state/local officials as well as your housing provider—there are resources available, and by lowering the barriers to the application, we hope that these funds can quickly get into the hands of those who need them,” says Ryan.