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Rent Relief: What You Should Know and Where to Go for Help

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

The U.S. housing market is undergoing a rebalancing. Visit HomeLight’s 2022 Housing Trends Hub for information on how to navigate a shifting market — whether you’re a seller, buyer, or homeowner.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant to be used for educational purposes only, not legal advice. If you need assistance navigating rent relief programs or eviction actions, HomeLight always encourages you to reach out to your own advisor.

Less than a month after COVID-19 caused shutdowns and unemployment across the globe in 2020, nearly a quarter of American renters didn’t make their April payments. By the first week of May, that number had climbed to 31%.

To pre-empt the looming possibility of homelessness for millions of renters and the default of millions of loans by landlords, Congress created the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program.

Funded by the federal government and administered by the states and municipalities, the program makes funding available to assist households that are unable to pay rent or utilities (water, sewer, trash, power, and internet).

Established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December 2020, ERA 1 provides up to $25 billion in funding through September 2022.

As the COVID crisis continued, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan in March 2021, which included a provision for ERA 2 and distribution of up to $21.55 billion in funding for ERA 2 before September 2025.

So far, Congress has invested a total of $46.6 billion on federal emergency rental assistance.

Now facing record inflation and other economic challenges, many families — both those who have never applied and those who have received assistance previously — are wondering what relief is still available.

Both the Treasury and local agencies provide reams of information on their websites.

To provide you with the latest information on assistance available, we consulted ERASE Senior Project Director Sarah Gallagher.

Can You Afford to Buy a House and Stop Renting?

If you are a renter who is wondering if you can afford to make the move to homeownership, HomeLight’s Home Affordability Calculator can help you understand the costs associated with buying a home. Find out what safe budgeting looks like for you before you start looking at homes for sale.

Coordinated by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), End Rental Arrears to Stop Evictions (ERASE) is a national effort designed to ensure the historic aid enacted by Congress reaches the lowest-income and most marginalized renters

The program also tracks and analyzes the emergency rental assistance utilization and assesses the need for long-term investments to end housing instability and homelessness in the United States.

Gallagher’s responses to your most frequently asked questions reflect the national Treasury guidance, which informs the way the 514 program affiliates administer ERA 1 and ERA 2. However, each local program has its own requirements and rules.

Who qualifies for rent relief?

While the Treasury guidance for eligibility criteria is based on income, financial hardship due to COVID and risk of housing instability are also considered.

In general, eligible renters:

  • have qualified for unemployment benefits or for (a) ERA 1, can attest in writing that they have experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, experienced other financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the pandemic, or for (b) ERA 2, has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship during or due, directly or indirectly, to the pandemic.
  • can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and
  • for ERA 1, has a household income below 80% of area median income (AMI), or for ERA 2 is a low-income family as defined by the United States Housing Act of 1937 (families with a household income below 80% AMI, as determined by the HUD Secretary with adjustments for smaller and larger families, except that the secretary may establish income ceilings higher or lower than 80% of AMI).

Furthermore, state and local fund administrators must prioritize households below 50% of AMI or those who are unemployed and have been unemployed for 90 days.

The ERA rolled out in two tranches or sections. While the objective and the eligibility requirements are similar, the second tranche — ERA 2 — has a little bit more flexibility.

To receive ERA 1 funds, individuals and households had to demonstrate they had a financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the pandemic.

By the time ERA 2 was ratified, COVID hardships had affected every American home in some way. So, the requirements eased with the understanding everybody has been impacted by the pandemic during that time frame.

As the end of the statutory period for ERA 1 nears and that funding becomes limited, some communities have focused on prioritizing the lowest income households.

So, even applicants who are in the 50% to 80% AMI category may find themselves waitlisted.

How do I find rent relief programs in my area?

To find or apply for rental assistance programs in your area, visit the state and local assistance page on the NLIHC website, or use the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s search tool at this link on

Can anyone other than renters themselves apply?

Both renters and landlords can apply for ERA funding.

Landlords’ eligibility is based on their tenant’s household income, financial hardships, and housing situation.

All programs’ eligibility requirements dictate renters must sign off all applications — those forms submitted on their own behalf and applications filed by landlords.

However, if the landlord refuses to participate in the process, some programs provide direct tenant assistance. That means the funds can go directly to the tenants, who can pay their rent as they regularly would.

Why should landlords participate in the program?

Participating in ERA programs has the potential to help homeowners of multifamily properties make their mortgage payments on a consistent basis.

Retaining good tenants is good business. It helps avoid the expensive, time-consuming, and lengthy eviction process that can result in months of missed payments.

Because access to the funds can be beneficial to both renters and landlords, it’s worthwhile to review the application process and explore the commitments required from both landlords and tenants.

A strong application from both landlord and renter tends to speed the process and promote the stability of both parties’ financial and housing situation in the long run.

How long does rent relief take?

The amount of processing time differs by location. For example:

  • In Palm Beach, Florida, applicants were advised the approval process may take up to six weeks before the landlord receives payment.
  • In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, qualified applicants could expect their rent to be paid within 30 days of receipt of all required documents from the tenant and landlord.
  • Approved applicants in Memphis, Tennessee, can expect payments will be processed within 14 business days of application approval.
  • In Elkhorn, Nebraska, all applications are verified and approved in a week. Payments are sent to landlords and utility companies by Tuesday afternoon of the following week.
  • In Albuquerque, New Mexico, once the renter’s application is approved, landlords have 14 days to provide their documentation before payment can be processed.

Can I still apply for rent relief?

According to the statutes, the window to access ERA 1 funding closes on September 30, 2022. From that point forward, all programs have access to their ERA 2 allotment until September 2025.

By mid-July 2022, some programs had expended all of their ERA 1 funds and were accepting applications and allocating ERA 2 relief.

With projections showing even their ERA 2 funds would be exhausted by the current crush of applications, some programs in New York, California, Texas, and some other states and municipalities have begun waitlisting applicants or halting applications altogether.

ERASE anticipates more than 20 state programs will close by the end of the year because the funds will have been drawn down.

To preserve the housing assistance infrastructure created by ERA, ERASE encourages its local partners to consider appropriating state and local fiscal recovery dollars and other resources to extend these programs.

How much rent relief can I receive?

Renters are eligible to receive a total of 18 months of payments from ERA1 and ERA2.

State and local program administrators are allowed to approve payments up to three months in advance. So, approved households may have to reapply or recertify multiple times to receive the total amount of funding for which they are eligible.

For example, if renters received six months of payments from ERA 1, they would be eligible for no more than 12 months of rent from ERA 2.

How do I check the status of my rent relief application?

Typically, renters can check on their application status by visiting the website of their programs and clicking the check status link.

Some programs such as the one in Baldwin County, Alabama, provide online application updates as well as a toll-free number and speaking to a representative.

Once an Alabama renter’s application is approved, payments are typically made by ACH deposit into the landlord’s bank account or mailed to the landlord’s address.

Can I apply for a second time?

If renters have received assistance previously for fewer than 18 months of payments, Treasury guidance allows them to apply for additional assistance.

However, in their attempts to serve the greatest number of people, some state and local programs have differing regulations.

What if I applied but I’m not getting any assistance?

Some applicants receive rejections because they do not meet the criteria. Fortunately, most programs have an appeal process for applicants who have received a denial and believe they qualify.

It’s important for renters and landlords to pursue an appeal because the denial may have been made in error.

Many programs rely on third-party vendors to accept and process applications via the internet or other electronic systems.

Those subcontractors might reject an application due to deficient documentation. The problem may be as simple as a scan that didn’t upload properly.

Many times, an appeal gives the applicants a chance to provide the correct information and documentation.

To help renters avoid these pitfalls and maximize their chances of receiving relief, many programs work with nonprofit organizations to provide application support, advocacy, or housing navigation.

Identifying and connecting to those resources can be the difference between receiving relief funds and eviction.

What should I do if I receive an eviction notice while waiting for rent relief?

If they receive an eviction notice, ERA applicants should inform both their local ERA program representative and the judge handling their case that they have a pending ERA application.

Many programs have policies that pause the eviction proceedings to allow time for that application to process.

Furthermore, if renters are served with an eviction notice and they plan to apply for assistance that day, they need to make their ERA program representative and the court aware of their intentions.

That communication is essential because some programs prevent a landlord from filing the eviction without first having a plan for ERA.

Several jurisdictions’ policies dictate a household that receives emergency rental assistance cannot be evicted for at least three months or even a year. So, renters can receive a little bit of future protection because they participate in an ERA program.

Since ERA’s implementation in January 2021, ERASE has tracked more than 150 new tenant protections. So there are now more resources than ever available to provide legal support to protect tenants.

ERASE has a tenant protection page that includes a map that shows what kind of protections are put in place related to emergency rental assistance.

And, finally, if going to court becomes inevitable, renters should request legal representation from their community’s legal aid provider. That way, they’ll be prepared to contend with the landlords’ lawyers in the courtroom.

Whom can I call with questions and concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about an emergency rental assistance program or your application, first call your local:

  • program administrator to find out the particulars of your state, county, or city’s requirements and the status of your application.
  • housing advocacy organizations have been involved and can provide support.
  • legal aid organization.

Even if they cannot provide direct assistance, they can typically refer renters to agencies with the greatest resources and potential to help.

For additional information, the U.S. Department of the Treasury offers FAQ and information frequently asked questions and reports and information.

Has ERA been a success?

In 2021, Congress made an unprecedented investment in emergency rental assistance during the pandemic.

Eviction Lab has tracked eviction filings across the country during the pandemic and compared them to pre-pandemic levels.

Approximately 1.3 million evictions have been prevented due to the rollout of emergency rental assistance and related tenant protection.

What does the ERA mean for the future?

Unfortunately, as ERA funds are exhausted in some municipalities, evictions are again ticking upward. Gallagher says that reality demonstrates the need for long-term solutions.

The proposed Eviction Crisis Act and the Stable Families Act would create permanent emergency rental assistance programs in the amount of 3 billion a year.

Another issue illuminated by the COVID crisis is the need for affordable housing and universal housing vouchers.

Many households experienced financial hardship during the pandemic. However, many were rent burden beforehand and afterward, which makes them even more vulnerable to homelessness.

“We have proof rental relief assistance and other programs work,” says Gallagher. And now, we really have to focus on making sure they become permanent parts of our housing infrastructure.”

Hope in the midst of a housing crisis

While economic indicators show inflation may be easing a bit, the reality is rents are still rising and families are searching for resources. “We want renters and landlords to know there is still assistance available in many communities across the country,” Gallagher emphasizes.

Even though the government websites can often be intimidating, “Don’t let the information on the website scare you away,” she says, “because there are many resources and organizations to help you go through the process.”

Header Image Source: (chris robert / Unsplash)