Treasury Department Eases Access to Emergency Rental Relief

Regulation | February 22, 2021 | by Juliana Bilowich

In its updated FAQs, the Treasury Department agreed with LeadingAge requests to ease access to Emergency Rental Assistance for older adults with low incomes.

On February 22, the Treasury Department updated guidance for the new Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program, which helps cover housing costs for renter households financially impacted by COVID-19. Under its updated FAQs, the Treasury Department has eased access for qualifying households, including allowing HUD-assisted older adults to be eligible for ERA assistance. 

The new rent relief dollars, which were approved by Congress at the end of December, are overseen by the Treasury Department but will be administered at the state and local levels. Landlords and tenants will be able to apply for the funds to cover outstanding rent and/or utility costs to remain stably housed during pandemic-related financial hardships. However, under initial FAQs for the ERA program, issued by the Treasury Department in January, older adults and their housing providers would likely have experienced barriers accessing the rent relief funds.

On January 29, LeadingAge sent a letter to the Treasury Department, the White House, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, urging them to ease access to the rent relief for older adults with low incomes.

The $25 billion Emergency Rental Assistance program will help bring stability to some of the estimated 30-40 million renter households at risk of eviction, and will help reimburse housing providers for rent receipt loss during the ongoing crisis.

Federally-Assisted Households Eligible for Emergency Rent Relief

LeadingAge’s letter to Treasury stressed the importance of providing access to older adults already receiving other forms of federal rental subsidy, which the Treasury Department’s previous guidance seemed to exclude based on concerns of duplicative use of federal funds. LeadingAge’s letter requested that federally-subsidized households experiencing financial hardship be eligible to receive the emergency relief for the tenant portion of the rent, not for the portion already receiving other forms of rental assistance. Households in Low Income Housing Tax Credit-funded housing were included in Treasury’s initial eligibility guidance and remain so with the February 22 update.

The Treasury’s February 22 FAQs state: “An eligible household that occupies a federally subsidized residential or mixed-use property may receive ERA assistance, provided that ERA funds are not applied to costs that have been or will be reimbursed under any other federal assistance. If an eligible household receives a monthly federal subsidy (e.g., a Housing Choice Voucher, Public Housing, or Project-Based Rental Assistance) and the tenant rent is adjusted according to changes in income, the renter household may receive ERA assistance for the tenant-owed portion of rent or utilities that is not subsidized.”

In order to avoid duplication of federal funds, entities administering the ERA will need to confirm that the funds are not being provided for the same costs as other federal rental assistance; a self-attestation from the applicants can meet this confirmation requirement.

Documentation Requirements Reduced to Self-Attestation

To streamline and expedite the relief, LeadingAge’s January 29 letter also requested that qualifying renters and housing providers be able to self-attest to the financial hardship requirements needed for ERA program eligibility.

In addition to being low-income and being at risk of housing instability, one or more individuals within the household qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the COVID-19 outbreak in order to be eligible for the relief.

The new Treasury FAQs allow households to self-certify to meeting the financial hardship eligibility criteria, as opposed to previous Treasury guidance that required extensive documentation and verification. The FAQs state: “Grantees [administering the funds will be required to] obtain written attestation signed by the applicant that one or more members of the household meets this condition.”

Housing Costs Expanded to Include Rent, Utilities, and Internet

Previously, the Treasury’s guidance limited the Rental Relief to rent and utility costs for eligible households. The new policy expands housing costs to include the cost of internet service provided to the rental unit, calling internet a “vital service that allows renters to engage in distance learning, telework, and telemedicine and obtain government services.”

The FAQs also state that because “coverage of Internet would reduce the amount of funds available for rental assistance, grantees [administering the funds at the state or local level] should adopt policies that govern in what circumstances that they will determine that covering this cost would be appropriate.”

LeadingAge strongly supports the inclusion of internet costs in definitions of housing cost, as well as the other changes made in the new guidance.