Eviction Prevention Efforts Ramp Up, Treasury Updates ERA FAQs

Eviction Prevention Efforts Ramp Up, Treasury Updates ERA FAQs

On July 21, the White House hosted a virtual meeting to help cities quickly deliver emergency rental assistance and develop plans to prevent evictions. Since December, Congress has provided to Treasury $46 billion for the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program.

On July 21, the White House hosted a virtual meeting to help cities quickly deliver emergency rental assistance and develop plans to prevent evictions. Since December, Congress has provided to Treasury $46 billion for the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program.

Despite a slow start, the rate of ERA spending is increasing. The Treasury Department released updated data on the ERA program, which showed that more than $1.5 billion in assistance was delivered to eligible households in the month of June—more than what was provided in the previous three reporting periods combined. And the number of households served in June grew by about 85 percent over the previous month and nearly tripled since April.

At the virtual meeting, White House American Rescue Plan Coordinator Gene Sperling reaffirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to do everything it can to make sure cities and states provide relief to renters and landlords as the CDC’s eviction moratorium comes to an end on July 31. Sperling stressed that the administration has provided new flexibilities to get emergency rental assistance out and that this is the time for state and local officials to step up and not hide behind being overly cautious or conservative.

The Biden administration is making a concerted government-wide effort to stem evictions and ensure ERA is provided efficiently, effectively, and equitably to keep families safely housed and bolster the administration’s efforts to contain COVID-19. The Treasury Department has released updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for the ERA program and a fact sheet. Here are the highlights of the new Treasury guidance.

Partnerships with Courts

To prevent evictions for nonpayment of rent, the new guidance strongly encourages grantees to partner with courts to actively prevent evictions and develop eviction diversion programs. The FAQs state grantees should consider:

  • Providing information to judges, magistrates, court clerks, and other relevant court officials about the availability of assistance under ERA programs and housing stability services;
  • Working with eviction courts to provide information about assistance under ERA programs to tenants and landlords as early in the adjudication process as possible; and
  • Engaging providers of legal services and other housing stability services to assist households against which an eviction action for nonpayment of rent has been filed.

Access to ERA for the Homeless

The Treasury Department updated its FAQ to clarify how ERA assistance may be used to support an eligible household moving to a new home. Before moving into a new residence, a tenant may not yet have a rental obligation, as required by the statutes.

In these cases, Treasury encourages grantees to provide otherwise eligible households with an official document specifying the amount of financial assistance under ERA programs that the grantee will pay a landlord on behalf of the household (such as for a security deposit or rent) if the landlord and the household enter into a qualifying lease of at least six months. Such documentation may expire after a certain period, such as 60 to 120 days after the issuance date. Treasury encourages grantees to work with providers of housing stability services to help these households identify housing that meets their needs.

Equal Access for All Households

The FAQ says that to promote greater access to assistance for all eligible households, grantees should address barriers that potentially eligible households may experience in accessing ERA programs. This includes providing program documents in multiple languages and conducting targeted outreach to populations with disproportionately high levels of unemployment or housing instability or that are low income. Grantees should also provide, either directly or through partner organizations, culturally and linguistically relevant outreach and housing stability services to ensure access to assistance for all eligible households.

Greater Grantee Coordination to Reduce Burdens and Delays

The Treasury Department encourages grantees providing services with overlapping or neighboring areas to collaborate to develop consistent or complementary ERA program policies. This will avoid unnecessary confusion among tenants and landlords regarding assistance. Treasury also encourages grantees to reduce burdens for entities seeking assistance from multiple grantees across different jurisdictions, including utility providers and landlords with properties in multiple jurisdictions.

Streamlined Payments for Utilities and Large Landlords

The FAQs say grantees may obtain information in bulk from utility providers and landlords with multiple units regarding the eligibility of multiple tenants and make bundled assistance payments for the benefit of multiple tenants in a single payment to a utility provider or landlord.

The FAQs say grantees may establish prudent information-sharing arrangements with utility providers and landlords for determining household eligibility. Grantees may also establish reasonable procedures for combining the assistance provided for multiple households into a single “bulk” payment made to a utility or landlord. Grantees should ensure that any such arrangements comply with applicable privacy requirements; include appropriate safeguards to ensure payments are made only for eligible households; and are documented in records satisfying the grantee’s reporting requirements, including, for example, the amount of assistance paid for each household.

Conduct Rental Assistance Outreach to Households with Balances

The expiration of the eviction moratorium order mandated by the CDC is putting a renewed emphasis on the resources available to ensure those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are able to remain in their homes. Sites can help connect households with the necessary funding to help ensure that their payments are current.

Before reaching out to the resident, be sure to review the resident's file. Look for employment and income sources and know the exact balance due. It's important to convey to delinquent households that applying for rental assistance will help prevent an eviction that can negatively impact a household's credit and rental history. If a household isn’t willing to apply for ERA, ask if the resident will give permission for you to apply on his or her behalf.

When you ask if a household with past-due rent is aware of or has applied for ERA, ask these follow-up questions:

Question: “Have you already applied for any rental assistance programs on your own?”

                If “Yes”:

                                • Through which agency?

                                • Have you been approved?

                                • How much do you anticipate receiving?

                If “No,” you can state, “I can help you identify which resources you may be eligible for.”

                                • Are you still working at [Employer Name]?

                                                o Have your hours been reduced?

                                                o How much do you make per month on average?

                                • Are you receiving unemployment?

                                                o How much do you make per week in unemployment?

                                • Are you available to come to the office on [date] at [time] so I can help you submit an application?  (If they say no, “Would you give us permission to apply on your behalf?”)

Survey Finds Most Aren't Aware of Emergency Rental Assistance

A survey of small landlords conducted by the Urban Institute, in partnership with the online platform Avail, found that landlords and tenants are still unaware of the federal rental assistance. According to the Urban Institute, more than 50 percent of renters and 40 percent of landlords don't know about ERA. Here are some other top takeaways from the survey:

  • Less than 6 percent of landlords and 11 percent of tenants have applied for ERA;
  • Only 55 percent of tenants who know about ERA (and missed a rental payment) applied for it;
  • 14 percent of landlords who know about ERA (and missed some rental income) applied for it on behalf of their tenants;
  • 65 percent of landlords know about ERA but aren't sure if they're eligible; and
  • Tenants most commonly learned of ERA through Internet searching, promotional ads, and state-sponsored outreach calls and letters.

When asked what state and local government can do to get them to apply, tenants were most likely to select “providing clearer communication of eligibility criteria and requirements” (46 percent), followed by “allowing payments to be sent directly to tenants” (40 percent), and “creating a simpler and more accessible application” (38 percent).

For landlords, the most selected answer was “providing clearer communication on who (landlord or tenant) is responsible for applying for emergency rental assistance” (54 percent), followed by “creating a simpler and more accessible application” (50 percent) and “proving clearer communication of landlord and tenant eligibility” (39 percent).