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State and Localities Lead Emergency Rental Assistance Efforts

In the absence of Congressional action to provide robust emergency rental assistance funding to renters who have been financially impacted by COVID-19, states and localities have taken matters into their own hands. Over 37 states and 151 localities have created programs to assist renters who have been affected by the ongoing public health emergency. While programs differ across the country, most programs have one commonality – utilization of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding allocated through the CARES Act. Following are some examples from newly minted or revamped programs.

Illinois

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) have opened applications to the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, a $150 million program for renters who are unable to pay their rent due to a COVID-19-related loss of income. To qualify, applicants must show income at or below of 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) prior to March 1, 2020, an unpaid rental balance that began on or after March 1, 2020 and a COVID-19-related financial hardship. Once approved, renters receive a one-time grant of $5,000 paid directly to their housing provider to cover missed rent payments. Grants can also be used to prepay rental payments through December 2020 or until the $5,000 is exhausted, whichever comes first.

Cook County, Ill. (which includes Chicago) took a similar approach in establishing a $20 million rental assistance program that will begin taking applications this month. Utilizing dollars allocated by the CARES Act, the program will provide up to three months of rental payments, with a maximum of $4,500 per eligible household. To qualify, renters must show a financial hardship tied to COVID-19 and have an income less than $51,000 before March 27. Recipients will be picked through a lottery system, though the system will be weighted to give preference to renters in areas of the county that were hardest hit by COVID-19 cases (approximately 25 percent). Payments will be made directly to housing providers. Cook County’s program does differ from others around the country in that individuals who apply for assistance are not required to be U.S. citizens or residents.

New Jersey

New Jersey created the Small Landlord Emergency Grant Program, utilizing $25 million from the state’s coronavirus relief fund, to focus on financial relief for housing providers. Property owners with properties that have at least three but no more than 10 total housing units are eligible. Those who receive assistance through the program are required to pass along the benefits to their residents by forgiving outstanding rental payments, as well as any late fees that accumulated between the months of April and July. Housing providers who own seasonal or vacation rentals are ineligible. Qualifying housing providers must have current fire inspection certificates, at least one non-vacant rental unit impacted by COVID-19 and low- to moderate-income rent levels or rent based on up to 80 percent of the AMI at the property.

Delaware

In addition to the new programs mentioned above, states and localities are beginning to invest additional dollars in existing programs that were depleted earlier in the crisis. Recently, Delaware added $40 million to the Delaware Housing Assistance Program and through the Delaware Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program, utilizing CARES Act funding from both the state and New Castle County. Through these programs, qualifying households can receive up to $5,000 of assistance, sent directly to housing providers or servicer banks. To be eligible, applicants must be a resident of Delaware with a maximum household income at or below 60 percent of the AMI for the county in which they reside.

Texas

Following suit, Houston, Texas allocated an additional $20 million to the city’s Rental Relief Program, with Harris County adding $25 million to the fund to cover specific precincts in Houston. The program originally received $15 million in funding by way of CARES Act allocations. While the specific requirements of housing providers and residents are still being negotiated, housing providers who participate in the program must waive all late fees, penalties and interest for outstanding rent. More details can be found on the Houston Apartment Association’s website.

Florida

In July, Pinellas County, Fla. revamped its CARES Act rental assistance program after seeing very few residents make it through the application process during the program’s first two months.  The county enacted numerous reforms, including: removing the AMI threshold; increasing the approved asset amount an applicant may have; and replacing lengthy income, job loss and asset documentation with a simple attestation by the applicant that they lost a job or income due to COVID-19. The funding provided to renters could also be provided to self-employed individuals. In the improved program, the total amount of assistance an individual could receive was increased to $5,000, with the rental payment paid directly to housing providers.  In partnership with the county, the Bay Area Apartment Association (BAAA) continues to share information about the program with its apartment community members, encouraging them to distribute program flyers to any resident who may need financial assistance.  Also noting that the application process was entirely online, BAAA petitioned the county to allow third parties to manage the application process for applicants who did not have internet access or were unable to use the internet, in which the county authorized several social service organizations to serve in this role.

NAA continues to track rental assistance programs across the country and in its federal advocacy work to emphasize the importance of financial assistance, whether in the form of rental assistance or enhanced unemployment benefits, in keeping renters stably housed during the crisis. An extension of the federal eviction moratorium is not the answer. It would decimate the rental housing industry.

To learn more about rental assistance programs, we encourage you to join us for the first event in the Government Affairs Roundtable (GART) Virtual Learning Series on August 26. Presenters will explore how to optimize federal, state and local funding sources as well as how to implement a successful rental assistance program. If you are a government affairs professional or association staff interested in advocacy, this free session is for you. Learn more and register here.

For questions about emergency rental assistance programs or to learn more about best practices in crafting a successful program, please reach out to Jodie Applewhite, Manager of Public Policy.