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COVID-19 emergency rental assistance programs in ten localities

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This brief was written as part of our COVID-19 Housing Response plans series. Added: June 18, 2020. Download a PDF copy.

In response to housing instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many local governments have enacted emergency rental assistance programs. This brief presents a snapshot of key features of rental assistance programs in a sample of ten localities: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, Missoula County, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Tacoma. While the programs have a shared objective of mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on tenants’ ability to pay rent, they vary in how they are funded, whom they serve, and what documentation they require, among other features. (See also Local Housing Solutions’ one-pager on emergency rental assistance programs.)

Key Features of Ten Localities’ Rental Assistance Programs

The tables below provide high-level information about ten localities’ rental assistance program in eight categories. The research team compiled Information for the tables primarily from publicly-available resources, including press releases, city ordinances, and program websites and applications. The data collected may be incomplete for some programs if, for example, certain details were not made public or information has been removed from the program website because its application window has closed. The research team will update this brief as additional information becomes available.

1. Program Budget and Estimated Number of Households to be Served

The total amount of rental assistance made available through the ten programs ranges from $50,000 in Missoula County (population 119,000) to $25 million in San Antonio (population 1.5 million). The programs aim to serve between 100 and 11,000 households.

program size chart

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2. Program funding sources

Localities use a variety of funding sources to support their rental assistance programs. Half of the localities rely solely or in part on funding provided through the CARES Act while the other half rely on local or state funding (including CDBG funds allocated before the passage of the CARES Act).

program sources chart

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3. Assistance payment applicants and recipients

Nine of the ten programs in the sample make the rental assistance payments to landlords on behalf of eligible tenants. Chicago works with a partner, Family Independence Initiative (FII), to provide $1,000 cash payments directly to awardees (San Antonio also works with FII to provide cash assistance to its program’s awardees for non-rent expenses, but the rental assistance payment is paid to landlords).

assistance payment recipients chart

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4. Frequency, duration, and amount of assistance

Half of the rental assistance programs issue a single payment to awardees, with maximum per-household assistance amounts ranging from a high of $1,500 in Boston to a low of $500 in Missoula County. The remaining programs allow multiple payments over 2, 3, or 12 months. Philadelphia awardees may reapply for additional assistance after three months if they continue to meet eligibility criteria and funding is available.

frequency, duration, and amount of assistance chart

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5. Program eligibility and ineligibility criteria

Each of the sample programs has specific criteria applicants must meet to be eligible to receive assistance, and four of the programs specify criteria that make applicants ineligible for support as well. Household eligibility is typically tied to household income, though programs vary in terms of qualifying income levels and whether income is measured pre-or post-COVID-19. Also common are eligibility criteria based on employment status and a COVID-19-related financial hardship. The tables below show eligibility and ineligibility criteria.

eligibility criteria for applicants chart

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ineligibility criteria for applicants chart

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6. Required documents for certification of eligibility

All programs require applications plus additional documentation to confirm program eligibility or determine assistance needs.The programs often provideapplicants with multiple ways to meet requirements. San Antonio, as an example, allows applications to demonstrate hardship via an unemployment letter, furlough letter, check stubs noting decrease of hours or pay, documentation of unexpected expenses, medical documentation of inability to work, or a personal statement of hardship. In addition to state-issued IDs, Chicago accepts leases and utility bills as identification for applicants.

documentation requirements chart

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7. Program management and operation

Nine of the sample localities coordinate with nongovernmental partners to manage and operate their rental assistance programs. Only Miami’s program is solely managed and operated by city staff.

program management and operation chart

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Examples of the roles of the nongovernmental implementation partners include:

  • Boston’s program is operated by two non-profits, Metro Housing|Boston and Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH).
  • BakerRipley, a non-profit community development corporation, operates Houston’s program
  • Minneapolis’ program’s application review process is supported by city staff, Catholic Charities and nonprofit eviction prevention providers.
  • In Missoula the Human Resource Council, a non-profit organization that serves low-income residents, manages the application process, contacts landlords, and distributes the rental payments.
  • San Antonio has partnered with grassroots organizations and local churches to conduct outreach to hard-to-reach residents. Seven churches have established intake centers for the program and help the city screen applications.
  • LASA (Living Access Support Alliance), a community-supported nonprofit organization, manages Tacoma’s funding application, lottery, and payment distribution.

8. Requirements for landlords

Seven of the sample localities’ programs include restrictions or requirements for landlords who receive payment assistance. Many of these requirements are designed to allow tenants greater housing stability during or after the time in which assistance is provided. In the case of Houston, during the period in which assistance is received, landlords must waive late fees and interest, provide an interest and penalty free payment plan for any rent the assistance does not cover, and refrain from evicting tenants. Philadelphia has similar requirements to Houston but also provides eviction protection for six months after the program’s last payment to the landlord and requires that landlords allow for penalty-free repayment of missed rent within this period.

landlord requirements and restrictions chart

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