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Housing & Rental Assistance

What steps can a municipality take to increase participation and expedite spending of rental assistance funds?

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 states that, beginning on September 30, 2021, the U.S. Department of Treasury (“Treasury”) will recoup funds not spent by Emergency Rental Assistance Program (“ERA”) grantees and reallocate those funds to entities that have spent at least 65 percent of their primary allocation.[1] Eligible grantees that receive payments under this reallocation provision will have those funds available through December 31, 2021, but may request an extension of up to 90 days beyond that date, subject to approval by the Treasury Secretary.[2]

There are many steps a municipality can take to improve the chances of meeting the spending deadlines imposed by the ERA. Some strategies that an eligible grantee may consider include:

  • ERA guidelines do not impose on grantees an onerous process of gathering documentation to meet the verification requirements, and in fact are flexible enough to allow attestations.[3]  A municipality can increase participation in the ERA by making the relevant populace aware that self-attestations are acceptable and can meet the requisite showing of financial hardship and housing instability.[4] Examples of a tenant’s self-attestation are listed below.
  1. I am the tenant identified above and the rental property for which I am applying for assistance is my primary residence.
  2. At least one (1) individual in my household has (i) qualified for unemployment benefits or (ii) experienced a reduction in income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to COVID-19.
  3. My household is at a risk of homelessness or housing instability.
  4. My household income has been reported truthfully and accurately.
  5. I have not received and am not aware of any duplicative benefit from another funding source. Note that if the tenant does not possess a written lease, the ERA guidelines allow for a landlord or management agent to submit an attestation to meet this requirement.[5]  
  • Municipalities may pay tenants directly where either the landlord or the utility provider is nonresponsive or uncooperative.[6] Under the U.S. Department of Treasury’s (“Treasury”) May 7, 2021, Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”), it  allows municipalities to make the determination regarding a nonresponsive or uncooperative landlord or utility provider in as few as 5 calendar days if at least 3 prior attempts at contact made via either phone, text or email are unsuccessful.[7] 
  • If the municipality has reliable workforce data that includes income information, it can consider using that data to validate Area Median Income (“AMI”) and/or financial hardship requirements. The data could be used to demonstrate a decline in income over a period of time.[8] Similarly, if data exists for another program with established income requirements, municipalities can consider using this data to validate AMI.  For example, if a household must be at or below 80% AMI in order to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) then the income requirement for a household applying for ERA should be able to be validated by showing that household’s receipt of SNAP benefits.
  • Here are some additional suggestions to maximize participation:
    • Partner with nonprofits to reach segments of the population or residents in certain geographical areas who may face challenges in completing timely and accurate online applications.[9] Nonprofits can be authorized to assist applicants in the application process.
    • Establish a centralized call center to communicate directly with potential applicants and take application information over the phone.

On June 24, 2021, Treasury released additional FAQs. FAQ 37 encourages grantees to “address barriers that potentially eligible households may experience in accessing ERA programs, including by providing program documents in multiple languages and by 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.”[10]

FAQ 38 indicates that grantees may obtain information in bulk from utility providers and landlords with multiple units regarding the eligibility of multiple tenants, or bundle assistance payments for the benefit of multiple tenants in a single payment to a utility provider or landlord.[11] Such data-sharing agreements between grantees and utility providers or landlords with multiple units may reduce administrative burdens and enhance program integrity by providing information to validate tenant-provided information.[12]  We recommend a close read of the relevant FAQ’s above.

These allowances may serve as helpful strategies for grantees to take in order to raise participation and increase expenditures for Rental Assistance.

Additional resources and strategies on how to spend down Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds before the upcoming deadline are available from Local Housing Solutions' Emergency Rental Assistance Program and National Low Income Housing Coalition's Resource Hub.

Last Updated: June 22, 2021

[1] Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Pub. L. 116-260), Division N, Title V, Subtitle A, Section 501(d), available at: https://www.congress.gov/116/cprt/HPRT42770/CPRT-116HPRT42770.pdf.

[2] Id. at Section 501(e).

[3] U.S. Department of the Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Frequently Asked Questions (as of May 7, 2021) – FAQ #1, at 2, available at: https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/ERA2FAQs%205-6-21.pdf.

[4] Id. at FAQ #2, at 3.

[5] Id. at FAQ #5, at 5.

[6] Id. at FAQ #12, at 7.

[7] Id. at FAQ #12, at 8.

[8] Id. at FAQ #4, at 4.

[9]Id. at FAQ #21, at 11.

[10] U.S. Department of the Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Frequently Asked Questions (as of June 24, 2021) – FAQ #37, at 15, available at: https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/ERA_FAQs_6-24-21.pdf.

[11] Id. at FAQ #38, at 16.

[12] Id.