Learn About Rental Assistance in the U.S.

According to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau, 36% of American households are renters. Renting is preferred for various reasons, among them being affordability, flexibility, and lifestyle choices. However, since 2015, rental prices have been increasing at a pace that is hard for many tenants to cope with.

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Research suggests that rent prices are the highest they’ve ever been in all parts of the U.S. yet many households haven’t recovered fully from COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, the U.S. and global economy appears to be headed for a recession in 2023, and inflation is at an all-time high. This explains why many renters continue to struggle with rental payments, rental debt, and risk of evictions.

However, such individuals can get rental assistance. There are several programs offering rent assistance in the U.S. They include:

1. Emergence Rental Assistance (ERA)

The ERA program was created by Congress in response to the economic effects of COVID-19 on tenants and landlords. Congress launched a $25 billion program dubbed ERA-1 under the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (enacted in December 2022) and followed it up with a second round of funding for $21.55 billion dubbed ERA-2 under the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (enacted in March 2021).

ERA-1 ensured each state got a minimum allocation of $200 million, while the minimum allocation for ERA-2 was $152 million per state. The respective laws dictated how the funds were to be spent i.e., payment of rental arrears, rent, and utilities. The remaining funds were to be used for housing stability services (i.e., case management and other forms of support to low-income families with retaining their house).

The availability of ERA-1 funds was extended from 31st December 2021 to 30th September 2022. ERA-2 funds will be available up until 30th September 2025. Since treasury can recapture and reallocate ERA funds that haven’t been used and direct them to more deserving jurisdictions, you can still get ERA-2 emergency rental assistance in 2023 going forward.

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Treasury provided ERA funding directly to states, local governments, and U.S. territories, and grantees help households via existing or new rent assistance programs. States and localities have some flexibility in designing ERA programs under the guidance of treasury and within some statutory requirements.

As of January 2023, the ERA program has assisted over 5.35 million low-income households (whose household income averages or is below 30% of the respective local area median income). In a nutshell, you can qualify for rent assistance in the U.S. via the ERA. However, you must meet the eligibility requirements.

Eligibility for Rental Assistance in the U.S. via the ERA Program

How do I get rental assistance in the U.S.? There are several requirements for getting ERA program assistance. They include;

You need a rental agreement. This applies to a home (a house, apartment, mobile home, or other place). You can qualify even if you don’t have a signed lease.

The following should be true in your household i.e., one or more members of your household should have lost income, qualified/should qualify for unemployment, and have other financial hardships or owed large expenses. The household income should be below a set threshold (usually below 50%) of the median income in your area. There should also be one or more members of your household experiencing housing instability (i.e., risks of being homeless or likely to have a problem finding a stable home).

Eligibility based on your housing needs and financial situation can be assessed online via your local ERA program, as such programs may have varying requirements.

Showing eligibility (documentation): If you apply for Emergency Rental Assistance program, you will be required to provide documentation about your income and other documentation showing you are experiencing housing instability.

While requirements may differ locally, applicants are generally required to submit tax documents, pay stubs, bank statements, unemployment benefits documentation, employer statements, etc. Applicants may also be asked to submit a written statement indicating that application information is complete and correct and any emergency rent assistance provided will be used for intended purposes.

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In cases where you can’t provide certain documentation, you may be allowed to submit a statement on your income. This applies in cases such as when your employer has closed, or you have a disability, or difficulties accessing certain documentation. When showing proof of housing instability, you may need an eviction notice, past due utility, proof that you are living in unhealthy/unsafe living conditions, or other proof required.

Some local programs may require a professional aware of your situation to offer clarification and suitability for receiving emergency rental assistance. Check with your respective ERA program locally for more information, as eligibility may involve other requirements for preventing fraud.

What Expenses Will Emergency Rental Assistance Cover?

The ERA allows coverage of rent, rent arrears, utilities, and home energy bills. These costs include gas, fuel, oil, electricity, sewer, water, and garbage removal. Even if a landlord pays for certain utilities, such costs are considered part of a tenant’s rent.

The ERA program also covers reasonable late fees (if such fees aren’t included in utility or rental debt). Home internet is also covered when it is used for work purposes. The same applies to moving expenses and related fees like security deposits, screening, and application fees required for moving families. It may also be possible to get assistance with house counseling, legal representation, case management, and related housing stability services with some local programs.

Rent assistance can also be extended to hotel and motel costs. This applies to persons who were forced to move from their homes and don’t have permanent housing elsewhere. However, assistance is subject to providing hotel/motel bills and/or among other evidence of the stay. Local program rules also apply.

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Can I Get Rental Assistance in the U.S. for Rent and Utilities Dating Back a Year?

YES. Provided those bills were accrued on/after 13th March 2020 when the U.S. declared a state of emergency, they can be offset by the ERA.

Can I Get Rental Assistance for Utilities Alone?

Yes! You don’t need to be late on rent to seek rent assistance in the U.S. If you don’t have rent arrears but require help with utilities i.e., cooling and heating, your local ERA can cover such costs alone.

The CDC’s moratorium on evictions may have ended on 26th August 2021. However, there’s still help available for renters in need. There’s obviously more on rent assistance through the ERA (Emergency Rental Assistance) program if you need more information on special living conditions, among other information. Find a local ERA program near you.

2. U.S. HUD (Housing & Urban Development) Rental Assistance

The U.S. HUD (Housing & Urban Development) doesn’t own rentals; however, the agency gives money to landlords and states to offer low-income housing opportunities. The HUD offers rental assistance in three main ways;

I. Privately-owned subsidized housing

The agency pays landlords to reduce rent charged to low-income tenants. It is possible to get a subsidized apartment.

II. Public housing

The agency also offers public housing (state-owned affordable rentals) for low-income households, persons with disabilities, and seniors. Public housing is available nationwide and run by the HUD. Since demand for public housing usually outweighs the supply, this assistance is characterized by long waiting periods. However, you can still apply for public housing in your state.

III. Housing Choice Voucher

This program (formerly Section 8) allows you to look for rental property and use a voucher to pay for rent partly or entirely. You can use this rental assistance program by contacting a public housing agent in your state. Housing Choice Vouchers can be used for apartments, townhouses, and single-family homes.

Housing Choice Voucher Program Eligibility

Local public housing agencies decide on eligibility for vouchers based largely on the family size, annual gross income, U.S. citizenship/eligible immigration status, and qualification as a senior, person with disability, or family.

Generally, family income shouldn’t exceed 50% of the jurisdiction’s median income. Different states and cities will have different Housing Choice

Voucher eligibility rules. You should contact your local public housing agency to discover more about eligibility.

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Applying for Housing Choice Voucher Program

The process starts by contacting a local public housing agency. You can check the local HUD office if you require more assistance.

You will be required to complete a written application. However, a representative in your local public housing agency can assist you. The process involves collecting information about your income, assets, and family size. The information is then crosschecked against information held by other local agencies, your bank, and your employer. This process is important for ascertaining that you have provided accurate information and you qualify for assistance.

The precise amount of assistance offered will depend on the information provided. You can expect rental assistance that leaves you with an amount you can afford to pay comfortably. If you qualify for assistance and choose a house that meets certain standards, your assistance will be approved. The local public housing agent must inspect the house before you get a voucher and sign the lease. Inspections are critical for ensuring the rental price matches the property.

Conclusion: Rent assistance in the U.S.

You can get rent assistance in the U.S. via the ERA program launched to offer Covid-19 related financial problems or through the rental assistance programs supported by the HUD. While there are other ways of getting rent assistance in the U.S., such as via HPRP (if you are homeless or facing imminent eviction), and LIHEAP (for energy costs assistance), the above programs offer a great start. Most importantly, understand the eligibility process to increase your odds of getting assistance.

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