HUD Encourages Eviction Prevention, Clarifies Access to Emergency Rental Assistance

Regulation | August 02, 2021 | by Juliana Bilowich

With the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium for non-payment of rent, millions of renter households remain behind on rent; HUD has encouraged housing providers to avoid evictions where possible and help residents access emergency rent relief.

 

After more than a year of various federal-level eviction protections, the CDC’s eviction moratorium for non-payment of rent has been allowed to expire. A patchwork of eviction protections remain in place at the local or state level, as well as for residents of properties with FHA-insured or FHFA-backed mortgages.

In the meantime, HUD has encouraged housing providers to work with residents and avoid evictions where possible, and to make residents aware of their options using HUD’s COVID-19 Resident Brochure.

Additionally, residents can access the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) new Emergency Rental Assistance tool, the Rental Assistance Finder. The CFPB’s website also includes information to help renters and housing providers understand other resources to help navigate various financial hardships related to the pandemic.

Separately, in its July update to Multifamily Housing Q&As, HUD clarified access to the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program for HUD-assisted residents:

Q: Can participants in Multifamily Housing programs receive assistance under the U.S. Department of Treasury’s (Treasury) Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program for rent or utility arrearages?

A: Yes, Multifamily Housing owners/agents may accept funds from the ERA Program for rental arrearages and some utility arrearages for HUD-assisted families. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families may have experienced unexpected financial hardships, and some families may have fallen behind on their rent or utility payments. Consistent with the Treasury FAQs, Question 15, dated March 26, 2021, HUD-assisted families that have accumulated a rent or utility arrearage and are at risk of experiencing homelessness are eligible for assistance from the ERA program, provided that ERA Program funds are not applied to costs that have been or will be reimbursed under any other federal assistance.

HUD-assisted Multifamily Housing tenants who are responsible for paying their own utilities receive assistance from HUD in the form of a utility allowance to cover these expenses. For utility costs, tenants may receive ERA Program funds for the utility arrearages that exceed the utility allowance.

Q: What if a tenant receives rental assistance funds directly from ERA Program, or another program, and pays their share of the rent with it? Can an owner/agent accept that, or do they have to verify the source of the funds?

A: If a tenant receives rental assistance funds directly from ERA Program and uses it to pay their rent, the owner/agent may accept the payment. The owner/agent does not need to verify the source of funds before accepting payment from the tenant.

Q: If a family receives assistance from the ERA Program, must that be counted as income?

A: No. Assistance through the ERA provided to a household shall not be regarded as income and shall not be regarded as a resource for purposes of determining the eligibility of the household or any member of the household for benefits or assistance.

Q: Can owners/agents share Multifamily Housing participants’ data with ERA Program grantees administering the funds, or provide verification of whether a participant is receiving rental assistance? Can HUD provide access to the Tenant Rental Assistance Certification System?

A: Owners/agents can share a participant’s data only if that individual consents to the data sharing. Absent consent, owners/agents are not authorized to share data regarding participants in the Multifamily Housing program with third parties. Owners/agents are obligated to protect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in their systems. HUD is not able to provide ERA Program grantees access to TRACS.

To determine if a tenant is participating in a rental assistance program, grantees administering the funds “may rely on an attestation from the applicant regarding nonduplication with other government assistance.” For example, tenants may be asked if they receive rental assistance from HUD or live in a Multifamily Housing property. ERA Program grantees may ask for a copy of the lease or verification of the amount owed in arrearage. Owners/agents may provide this information if the tenant consents. Further, Treasury guidance allows grantees to use federal benefit programs to verify income in place of requiring documentation. When tenants have agreed to share data, HUD encourages multifamily owners to do this as well.

Q: As a condition of receiving ERA Program funds, some owners/agents have been asked to reduce the arrearage amount owed by a Multifamily Housing tenant. Can an owner/agent agree to forgive a debt owed by a Multifamily Housing tenant, or reduce the amount owed?

A: No, owners/agents cannot forgive rent owed or reduce the amount owed for Multifamily Housing programs. There is no express authority under statute or HUD regulations that would grant an owner/agent the discretion to forgive or reduce a Multifamily Housing tenant’s rental arrears for rent owed. Participants in the Multifamily Housing program are statutorily obligated to pay their portion of the rent, and rents are adjusted based on income or established at a minimum level per regulation.

An overview of the termination process in Multifamily Housing, including obligations and considers for housing providers, is available in HUD Handbook 4350.3, Chapter 8. LeadingAge also previously compiled eviction prevention resources, including a tenant guide to repayment plans and sample repayment agreements for housing providers.