Rental Assistance Program: How To Apply And Frequently Asked Questions

    The COVID-19 pandemic brought about significant challenges to families all over the country, especially with its medical and financial impacts. For tenants or renters, these pandemic struggles made paying rent difficult, if not impossible. With these concerns, the government released the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program.

    In this article, learn more about rental assistance, particularly how to apply for it and other frequently asked questions about it.

    Rental Assistance Programs

    The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was launched by Congress and administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury. Its main purpose is to assist millions of households that need financial help to pay for rent and utilities.

    This program was launched in two phases. The first part of ERA was discussed in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, while the second was 2021’s American Rescue Plan Act. Both programs are monitored by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), but state and local agencies handle the administration and logistics.

    How To Apply For Rental Assistance

    To access ERA program benefits, renters and landlords must contact the state and local programs that distribute the funds in their community. They will handle all the applications, too.

    However, it is worth considering that every local assistance program provider also manages the evaluation of eligibility. Despite the federal guidelines, they are given the freedom and flexibility to identify the policies and procedures suited to their local community. 

    You can start the application process by accessing your locality’s ERA program online portal. Additionally, you can check the local hotline out of the 512 active ERA programs and start with a paper application.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Rental Assistance

    Because ERA is a relatively new program, there are a lot of details that call for clarity or further discussion. Here are some of the most common questions to help you understand the program more:

    What does rental assistance cover?

    ERA covers rent, utilities, and home energy expenses. Though the program was originally for covering rental payments, some states and local communities also offer support for expenses like water, fuel oil, electricity, gas, sewer, and trash removal.

    In some cases, rental assistance may also be provided for home internet service, late payment fees, moving expenses, rental application fees, security deposits, and screening fees for moving to a new residence.

    Lastly, rental assistance may cater to case management, housing counseling, legal representation, and other services related to housing stability.

    When should recipients of emergency rental assistance spend the funds?

    The recipients of the first phase of the ERA program must have exhausted all funds last September 30, 2022. Those who did not access their excess funds will lose them, and the state and local agencies will now reallocate these funds to others who need help.

    However, for those who are part of the ERA2 program, the funds will expire on September 30, 2025. Any funds remaining undrawn by December 31, 2022, may be reallocated by the NLIHC to other grantees.

    How much financial assistance can a renter get?

    The rental assistance provided to tenants may be worth up to 18 months of rental expenses, inclusive of unpaid overdue rent. The funds granted will be directed to what people owe first. Should the total amount not be enough, tenants may also be provided with future rent assistance for up to three months at a time.

    However, the total amount awarded to a specific tenant will vary depending on the state or locality they are in. For instance, households in Arizona may receive up to $3,500 per month or a total of $63,000 for the 18-month coverage period.

    Is it possible to request for utility-only assistance?

    The simple answer to this question is yes, but ultimately, the availability of utility-only assistance depends on your local program.

    Local rental assistance programs allow tenants to request help for energy or utility expenses alone. However, you should note your agreement with your landlord. In some cases, where the landlord pays for your utilities, these expenses technically count as rent, too.

    If you want to ensure your request for utility-only assistance will be covered, you must present the invoices, bills, and related documents from your utility provider.

    Is rental assistance exclusively for people behind on rent?

    Emergency rental assistance is not limited to people behind on rent. If you are facing a financial hardship like suddenly losing your job or having high medical bills due to illness, you can use this program to help you with future rent.

    Can you use rental assistance to pay for the cost of a motel or hotel room?

    If your household is eligible for the ERA program, you can use the funds for a motel or hotel room. However, this will only be granted if you meet the following conditions:

    • You were forced to move out of your home, and you have no other place to stay permanently
    • You can provide documents like hotel room bills to serve as proof of your stay
    • Your local ERA program follows the guidelines for this particular type of rental assistance

    However, if you find that your local ERA program won’t be able to support you, you have the option to check your eligibility for the HUD Emergency Solutions Grant program.

    What are the acceptable types of proof of income?

    Your eligibility for the ERA program depends on your household’s needs and your current financial situation. With that, you have to show proof of your income, which will determine whether you need assistance.

    First, in your application, you would be asked to sign a written statement that attests to your honesty in providing complete and accurate information, especially with details like your income.

    Aside from this document, you will also be required to submit pay stubs, tax documents, a certification from your employer, unemployment benefits documents, and similar files. 

    If you have a special situation or it is hard to signify your income or job loss, some local programs will ask you to tell your story through a written statement.

    They will also subject you to household income reviews every three months to ensure you are still eligible to receive the program’s benefits. You might be assigned to a caseworker who will check if you comply with the guidelines and are not committing fraud.

    How can renters show where they live and how much they pay for it?

    Local programs also have set guidelines that dictate their definition of housing instability. Generally, renters will be asked to provide a written statement accompanied by an agreement signed by their landlord that explicitly notes where they live and the amount they pay for rent.

    In some cases, additional documents will be required, like the following:

    • Proof of utility expenses
    • Bank statements
    • Check stubs for rental payments
    • Other paperwork that shows past rent payments

    Do local rental assistance programs send rental assistance to landlords or renters?

    The disbursement of funds for rental assistance depends on how the local program is operated.

    In some cases, the local administrator will contact the landlord or utility provider to send them the funds on the renter’s behalf. However, should they decline or fail to respond to the request within five to seven days, the local program will contact the renter, who is responsible for sending the payments themselves.

    Can a person who receives a federal rent subsidy qualify for rental assistance?

    If a person receives a federal rental subsidy like Housing Choice Voucher, Project-Based Rental Assistance, or Public Housing, they may still qualify for rental assistance.

    Can a person living in a manufactured or mobile home receive rental assistance?

    Like other renters, people who live in manufactured or mobile homes may still receive rental help. They may also receive assistance if they own their manufactured or mobile home but rent the land it sits on or if they need help with utility expenses.

    In cases where a person lives on a houseboat, they may still be granted assistance to cover their mooring fees.

    Will tribal members living on non-tribal lands receive rental assistance?

    A Tribal member may be eligible for the ERA program through their Tribe or Tribally Designated Housing Entity (TDHE), granted that they do not already receive similar assistance through the state or local government. 

    Conclusion

    Housing stability is a significant problem worsened by the pandemic, and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program is one of the best solutions launched by the government to help people escape this hardship. The application can be easily done through your local office, so look at the ERA program database to apply today.

    If you want to learn more about other government solutions that help people in need, check out Gov Relations’ guide on how to get free money from the government!