Are you a renter having trouble paying your rent, housing cost, and utilities? Or are you a landlord who needs to stay afloat, but your tenants have financial problems, too? Here are some good news — help may be available through the Emergency Rental Assistance program.
The Emergency Rental Assistance program is one of the government-created housing assistance programs for the elderly, low-income households, disabled people, and other people in need.
In this guide, you will learn more about Emergency Rental Assistance grants, their eligibility requirements, and the factors that can affect the benefits you’ll get.
Emergency Rental Assistance Program In A Nutshell
According to the Census Bureau’s Household 2021 Pulse Survey, one out of six renters nationwide were not caught up in their rental payments. And even though the country is recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are stuck in rental debt — fearing home evictions and losing basic housing security.
To meet this need and combat this issue, the federal government established the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program through the US Department of the Treasury. The primary purpose of this program is to distribute money for emergency rent and utility assistance for households at risk of losing their homes.
Two acts fall under ERA: ERA1 through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of December 2020 and ERA2 through the American Rescue Plan Act of March 2021.
Eligibility For Emergency Rental Assistance
The eligibility for Emergency Rental Assistance varies between the two acts. Here are the important things to check if your household is eligible for ERA funds:
- A household member has qualified for unemployment benefits
- The household can demonstrate the risk of housing instability or homelessness
- The household is classified as a low-income family
Under ERA1, the grantee must attest in writing that the household experienced financial hardships, including household income reduction, and incurred significant costs due, directly or indirectly, to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, the household’s income must be 80% below the Area Median Income (AMI).
On the other hand, for ERA2, the definitions are clarified much further. The grantee must attest in writing that the household experienced financial hardships, including household income reduction, and incurred significant costs during or due, directly or indirectly, to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their household must also be classified as a low-income family, as defined in Section 3(b) of the United States Housing Act of 1937.
Components Of Emergency Rental Assistance
When a household is granted Emergency Rental Assistance, they may use the funds for the following purposes:
1. Financial Assistance
Upon being granted an ERA, the grantee must use 90% of the funds for financial assistance. This includes rent payments, whether back or forward payments and other housing expenses.
In this context, other housing expenses may include relocation expenses, security deposits, application for relocation fees, accrued late fees, and internet services. A tenant’s hearing fees on evictions or rent bonds may also be covered.
However, an eligible household will only receive assistance for up to 18 months under ERA1 and ERA2. ERA1 will only cover up to 12 months, plus an extra three months if necessary.
Moreover, ERA cannot be used for energy costs and mortgage payments, but other government assistance options exist for these concerns.
2. Housing Stability Services
Housing stability services are for fair housing counseling, eviction prevention programs, housing navigators, landlord-tenant mediation, housing stability case management, legal services or attorney fees, services for victims of domestic abuse, and specialized services for seniors and people with disabilities.
10% of the total program funds can be used for these services. Under ERA1, they strictly must be related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the limitation was omitted in ERA2.
3. Administrative Fees
In ERA1, grantees may use up to 10% of the total grant in administrative fees, while 15% can be used in ERA2.
Factors To Verify Emergency Rental Assistance Eligibility
The Department of Treasury allows people to self-certify ERA eligibility criteria. However, it is crucial to know the documentary requirements for all the factors used by local program administrators.
The eligible income for Emergency Rental Assistance depends on either the household’s total income in the past year or the monthly payment at the time of application. If you are an applicant that opted to submit monthly income, the local agency will review the amount and extrapolate to determine whether that amount will fit the 80% AMI requirement.
The documentation that provides proof of income includes pay stubs, tax filings, bank statements that show regular income flow, or an employer attestation.
2. Residency And Rental Obligation
Grantees must also secure a current lease from their landlord, and this document must state the address and the amount of rent owed. If the applicant cannot provide a signed lease, they must submit other documentation that proves residence. Some documents that will be accepted are evidence of utilities paid, check stubs for older rental payments, or a written attestation from the landlord.
3. Financial Hardship
Emergency Rental Assistance grantees must self-attest to prove their financial hardship during and due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that the applications submitted include a written and signed attestation with attached documentation that proves how your household meets the financial hardship conditions.
4. Risk Of Housing Instability Or Homelessness
The main thing that Emergency Rental Assistance grantees must prove is the risk of experiencing homelessness and housing instability. Some ways to show this includes presenting an eviction notice, past utility dues, past unpaid rent notices, and proof of unsafe or unhealthy living conditions.
Access To Emergency Rental Assistance Funds
Though the Emergency Rental Assistance program is launched nationally, state and local agencies administer the program as well. To access ERA, renters and landlords must connect to their local ERA program.
For assistance to be obtained in the ERA1 program, the landlord must express their intent to cooperate. They will be provided seven days by mail or five days by email, text, or phone to respond. If they don’t answer within the timeframe, the state will deliver direct-to-tenant assistance instead.
For the ERA2 program, direct-to-tenant assistance is readily available for those interested in applying. There will be no need for applicants to connect to a landlord beforehand.
Alternatives To Emergency Rental Assistance
Should you find that you are not eligible for Emergency Rental Assistance, or if you want to know if there are better options, here are some alternatives you may consider:
Frequently Asked Questions
Learn more about Emergency Rental Assistance Grants through the answers to some frequently asked questions about them.
Can a homeless person be eligible for ERA?
According to the guidelines set by the Treasury, Emergency Rental Assistance is only reserved for families with rental obligations. Interested grantees may consider using a commitment letter to a landlord that specifies that they will use ERA to pay their security deposit and monthly rent.
Can you get ERA funds for temporary displaced households in motels and hotels?
Emergency Rental Assistance may help cover hotel and motel expenses, as these fall under the category of “other expenses related to housing incurred due, directly or indirectly, to the COVID-19 outbreak.” However, the incidentals of the hotel or motel stays are not included in the coverage.
Are there ERA restrictions based on a person’s immigration status?
The Emergency Rental Assistance program allows people to access its benefits regardless of their immigration status. Since the guidelines set by the Treasury do not specify federal restrictions on immigration status, states and local agencies do not have the right to hinder people from receiving assistance based on their Social Security Number or immigration status.
The Emergency Rental Assistance program is the perfect solution to help people who have fallen behind on rental payments due to the obstacles brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. If you struggle to make ends meet and want to access these benefits, you should check the National Low Income Housing Coalition database to apply for a local program near you.
For more information on housing programs, check Gov Relations today! We have a guide for people with disabilities looking for rental assistance and other government grant resources that can help you.