A $25 billion federal rental assistance fund has been distributed to states, which will allow citizens struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic to apply for financial aid for debts from being unable to pay rent. According to one study, 14 million Americans are behind on paying their rent expenses due to the crisis. Those for the fun say more rental assistance will be needed to hold off a sudden surge in evictions. After 10 months of record unemployment and business shutdowns, rental arrears in the U.S. may be closer to $70 billion.
President Joe Biden is calling for Congress to allocate another $30 billion in housing aid, and on his first day in office, announced an executive order that plans to extend the national ban on evictions through March. Here’s what you should know about receiving funds authorized by the $25 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
Are you eligible?
To qualify for the program, at least one member of your household has to have incurred significant expenses due to the pandemic, lost income or, or be eligible for unemployment benefits. You will also need to prove you're at risk of homelessness. In addition, your income level for 2020 can’t exceed 80% of your area’s average income. States have been directed to prioritize applicants who fall at 50% of the average income or lower, as well as those who’ve been out of work for 90 days or more.
Are the funds available now?
Yes, the funds became available on January 26th.
How do you apply?
“Where or how to apply will vary city by city,” said Emily Benfer, a law professor at Wake Forest University. Many areas already have existing rental assistance funds. If this is the case for your city, it will be through these that you apply for the new aid. In other cases, programs will be created to disburse the money, Benfer said.
“Renters should contact local housing groups, their representatives or the local 211/311 lines to identify programs and learn how to apply,” she added.
Your landlord can also apply on your behalf, but must get your signature and provide you with a copy of the application.
How much could you get?
Renters can get assistance with up to 12 months of unpaid rent and utility bills, and potentially another 3 months of support if there are still funds available. In some cases, you may even be able to get assistance in covering future rent payments, but only if there’s a plan to address any debts first. The funds will be paid directly to your landlord or utility company.
Do you need to be behind on my rent to qualify?
No, but you will be unable to receive funds for future rent payments until any rental debts have been paid off.
Can you apply for assistance just for utility or energy costs?
Can homeowners apply for this assistance?
Unfortunately not, this program is just for renters.
If you're facing eviction, you should:
Apply for the funds as soon as you're able to. It's also important to understand your rights. Most renters should be allowed by landlords to stay in their homes at least through March due to the national ban prohibiting evictions for nonpayment of rent.
To evoke that protection, you’ll need to attest on a declaration form that you meet the requirements, such as expecting to earn less than $99,000 in the 2020-2021 calendar year.
“If a tenant cannot pay the rent, they should provide the declaration to their property owner as soon as possible,” Benfer said.
For more questions or assistance, please feel free to reach out to our office at 608-783-0440.