White House Issues Guidance for New Emergency Rental Assistance Funds

Regulation | May 11, 2021 | by Juliana Bilowich

As rent backlogs deepen across the country, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the allocation of additional funds for Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA), as well as new guidance for the funds to assist those renters most impacted by the crisis.

As eviction moratoria and rent backlogs continue across the country, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the allocation of additional funds for Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA). The additional $21.6 billion in emergency rent relief funds were approved under the American Rescue Plan in March and complement the initial $25 billion approved by Congress in December to assist impacted renters with back rent, future rent, and utility payments.

LeadingAge senior housing provider members have reported relative rent stability at their communities; however, nearly 7 million Americans reported being behind on rent in the second half of April, and more than 40% of those renters reported concerns that they could be evicted in the next two months.

Emergency Rental Assistance Policy Changes

The Administration is also implementing stronger guidance for the use of Emergency Rental Assistance funds to assist and prioritize renters most financially impacted by the pandemic. A factsheet released by the Treasury Department reviews the nine policy changes, most of which applies directly to the second round of ERA funds:

  • Requires Programs to Offer Assistance Directly to Renters if Landlords Choose not to Participate: Treasury guidance makes clear that emergency rental assistance provided by the American Rescue Plan (ERA2) must be offered directly to renters when landlords do not accept payment.
  • Shortens Wait Time for Assistance Offered to Renters When Landlords Do Not Participate: Currently, where assistance is first offered to landlords, programs must wait 14 days when reaching out by mail or 10 days when reaching out by phone, text, or email before offering relief to a tenant directly. Those wait times will now be cut in half, to 7 days and 5 days respectively.
  • Allows Offers of Assistance Directly to Renters First: The new funds from the American Rescue Plan (ERA2) can be used to provide assistance to renters first and immediately, instead of requiring an offer of assistance to landlords before reaching out to renters.
  • Encourages Financial Assistance to Support Renters Finding New Housing: The new guidance recognizes that there may be increased need over the coming months for impacted renters to find new housing. The Treasury guidance reinforces that ERA funds may be used to cover moving expenses, security deposits, future rent, utilities, and the cost of a transitional stay in a hotel or motel when a family has been displaced.
  • Protects Renters from Eviction While Payments Are Being Made on Their Behalf: Programs must prohibit the eviction of renters for nonpayment in months for which they receive emergency rental assistance.
  • Prohibits Grantees from Establishing Documentation Requirements that Would Reduce Participation: Treasury’s guidance strongly encourages grantees to avoid establishing documentation requirements that are likely to be barriers to participation for eligible households, matching the rules for the Homeowner Assistance Fund.
  • Reduces Documentation by Allowing Programs to Verify Eligibility of Low-Income Renters Based on Readily Available Information or “Proxies”: Instead of documentation requirements that could prevent some of the most vulnerable renters from completing applications and receiving assistance, programs will now be able to verify the income eligibility of renters using any reasonable fact-specific proxy, such as the average income in the neighborhood in which renters live.
  • Prohibits ERA2 Programs from Denying Assistance to Eligible Residents Solely Because They Live in Federally Assisted Housing: For ERA2, grantees cannot refuse to provide assistance to households on the basis of receiving federal rental assistance. The guidance further encourages grantees to partner with the owners of federally subsidized housing to ensure their residents are reached.
  • Requires Programs to Document their Prioritization of Assistance to the Renters Most in Need: Programs are required to prioritize assistance to low-income households and those with members who have been unemployed for more than 90 days. To help ensure that assistance is reaching those who most need it most, grantees will be required to report how they will achieve the required prioritization of assistance.

Resources and Actions to Promote Housing Stability

During a call with White House staff, LeadingAge learned that HUD’s role in implementing the ERA has been increased. In addition to the new policies for distributing Emergency Rental Assistance funds, HUD and the Treasury Department are finalizing and Interagency Agreement to send experts to the highest need areas and assist states and localities scaling up ERA programs.

In addition, HUD is publishing toolkits and other materials focused on eviction prevention; the agency is also developing a $20 million demonstration program to provide legal assistance to low-income tenants at risk of evictions.