With the nationwide eviction ban struck down and the imminent expiration of Covid-era unemployment benefits, advocates are encouraging tenants behind on their housing payments to apply for emergency rental assistance as soon as they can.
"It's going to be a perfect storm for a lot of folks," says Jordan Dewbre, a staff attorney for BronxWorks, a New York-based community organization assisting tenants and landlords with emergency rental assistance applications, noting in addition to federal relief ending, hospitals around the country are filling up with patients as the delta variant escalates. "We are still in the middle of a pandemic."
Federal and state eviction bans were meant to protect renters during the pandemic. But the Supreme Court blocked the federal ban last week, and moratoria put in place by many states have also lifted. Without them in place, vulnerable tenants need the $46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance funded in two federal relief bills more than ever. Without it, millions are potentially at risk of eviction.
But the relief has been slow to be disbursed by states. At the end of July, just $5.1 billion had been distributed by state and local governments, according to the Treasury Department.
That pace sped up in August, at least in New York, Ellen Davidson, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, says. Still, Davidson says complex applications for rental assistance programs in different states have led to many tenants not receiving the relief that could keep them housed as the delta variant rages on.
"I think some people may have held off hoping the glitches in the system would be worked out and things would get smoother as more time went by," Davidson says. "But at this point, people need to apply even though it's challenging."
Many of the rental assistance programs require proof of income for each adult in the household, as well as Social Security numbers and a lease agreement. All of that can be difficult to obtain.
For renters confused by the process for relief, or for those without reliable internet access, community organizations like BronxWorks can help upload the necessary documentation and submit applications. Many states also offer hotlines that will connect tenants with people who can answer any questions they might have. New York's, for example, can be reached at 844-691-7368. Texas's is 833-989-7368. Others can be found on each state's rent relief website.
Another hurdle, Davidson and Dewbre say, is landlords. Both tenants and landlords need to fill out an application in order to receive any of the emergency money. Though landlords are the ones who will ultimately get the funds, some are not submitting the paperwork they need to in order for the applications to be processed.
This happens for many reasons, says Dewbre. In some cases, it is also onerous on them to find all of the necessary documentation and submit it, especially for smaller landlords (organizations like BronxWorks also help those smaller landlords who may have trouble navigating the application system). Others might prefer to evict their current tenants for missed payments, he says.
In New York and some other states, including Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, renters cannot be evicted if they have submitted an application for emergency rental relief (even if their landlord has not), which is why Dewbre says it's crucial to start on the application as soon as possible. Tenants in other states should check with their local Legal Aid office to learn their rights.
"It's money that doesn't have to be paid back by the tenant, it doesn't have to be paid back by the landlord," he says. "So just apply."