Treasury Adds 7 Policies to Expedite ERA Distribution
The Treasury Department recently released updated Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) spending data through Aug. 31. So far, state and local programs have made over 1.4 million Emergency Rental Assistance payments to households and distributed $7.7 billion since January.
According to the Treasury Department, many state and local programs have proven an ability to accelerate aid effectively, with 119 state and local agencies having expended more than half of their first rental assistance funding allocation. The Department attributes this improvement to the many months of collaboration between Treasury, the White House, and state and local governments to increase the distribution of assistance to renters and landlords in need.
The Biden administration is continuing its effort to encourage grantees to avoid or reduce unduly burdensome documentation requirements for verifying income, provide assistance directly to tenants when landlords are not cooperative, and protect renters from eviction after payments are made on their behalf. The Treasury Department recently issued further policy clarity and recommendations meant to accelerate assistance, including clarifying that self-attestation can be used in documenting each aspect of a household’s eligibility for ERA. These are the seven additional policies meant to accelerate assistance to those in the pipeline in addition to those who have yet to apply.
1. Self-attestation can be used in documenting each aspect of a household’s eligibility for ERA, including with respect to: (a) financial hardship; (b) the risk of homelessness or housing instability; and (c) income. The Treasury Department is encouraging grantees to simplify application processes to use self-attestation when other forms of documentation aren’t immediately available.
2. State and local ERA programs may rely on self-attestation alone to document household income eligibility when documentation isn’t available during the public health emergency. Treasury is clarifying that grantees may rely solely on a self-attestation of income when applicants are unable to provide other documentation of their income.
3. State and local grantees may advance assistance to landlords and utility providers based on estimated eligible arrears. The Treasury Department is establishing guidelines for providing a portion of estimated bulk payments to landlords and utility providers in anticipation of the full satisfaction of application and documentation requirements.
4. State and local grantees may enter into partnership with nonprofits to deliver advance assistance to households at risk of eviction while their applications are still being processed. Where an expedited payment could reasonably be viewed as necessary to prevent an eviction that may occur under a grantee’s standard application process, Treasury is establishing guidelines for state and local programs to engage with nonprofit organizations able and willing to take on the financial risk of advancing assistance before an application is fully processed to speed aid to at-risk households.
5. Grantees may make additional rent payments to landlords that take on tenants facing major barriers to securing a lease, including those who have been evicted or experienced homelessness in the past year. State and local ERA programs may make an additional payment required as a condition of entering into a lease with a “hard-to-house” household that would not otherwise qualify under a preexisting and lawful screening or occupancy policy.
6. Past arrears at previous addresses may be covered. To remove barriers a household may face in accessing new housing if they have outstanding debt in collection, Treasury’s guidance makes clear that state and local grantees may, at an eligible tenant’s request, provide assistance to cover remaining rental or utility arrears at a previous address.
7. A tenant’s costs associated with obtaining a hearing or appealing an order of eviction may be covered with ERA funds as an eligible “other expense.” Many states and localities require tenant payments of rent to a court on behalf of the landlord (often referred to as “rent bonds”) as a condition for a tenant to have the opportunity to defend herself in court before being evicted. New guidance makes clear that rent bonds are an eligible ERA expense.
Where Funds Are Flowing
According to Treasury Department data, many of the states and localities who saw the most growth have recently adopted the Treasury’s guidance and flexibilities. For example, North Carolina has created a streamlined application process, incorporating fact-based proxies based on geographic census tract information and increased adoption of self-attestation in order to lower application barriers. North Carolina spent more than $200 million of its ERA1 funds over the course of July and August; the state was approaching the halfway point of their ERA1 allocation by the end of August.
Similarly, Gwinnett County, Ga., took advantage of updated guidance provided by Treasury in recent months to help get rental assistance dollars out into the community. The county has incorporated self-attestation and proxies for income based on census tracts and enrollment in local benefits programs (SNAP, WIC, and other programs) into its application process.