Rent Relief Is Reaching More People at Risk of Eviction

eviction prevention

New Data Shows Slow Emergency Rental Assistance Still Beats No Assistance in Preventing Homelessness

When the COVID-19 first hit, housing and homeless advocates braced for the worst. The pandemic literally shut down the economy. Millions of employees lost their jobs.

Tens of millions of renters were at risk of homelessness by way of eviction. The only saving grace at that moment was the national moratorium, which placed a temporary ban on eviction and was later proven to have saved lives and money. By its very nature, however, the legislation was temporary, making it appear as though a storm of evictions would seize us at any given moment.

The End of the Moratorium Proved not to be the End of the World, After All, Thanks in Large Part to Emergency Rental Assistance

In late August, after much debate, the inevitable occurred. The Supreme Court moved to end the CDC eviction moratorium nationwide, leaving countless renters in a lurch.

Soon after the ban was lifted, the future of housing looked eternally dim. Reporters warned of a looming storm of evictions getting ready to swoop through the country. Some even claimed it would be like an avalanche, with crisis after crisis piling up like heavy snow.

The precise number of at-risk renters was difficult to pin down, ranging between 3 million and 13 million, depending on the source. It was clear that it was a significant number – well among the millions.

To this day, many households are still in arrears. Some have accrued multiple months of owed back rent and late fees.

The only saving grace left was the $46.5 billion allocated for emergency rental assistance. This should have been sufficient funding to appease landlords and spare renters from homelessness as winter loomed. But there was a huge issue. Emergency rental assistance wasn’t reaching renters in time. In many cases, it didn’t reach them at all.

One Arizona resident by the name of Chandra Dobbs told ABC News, “I didn’t think I was going to be evicted because I applied for rental assistance money.”

Tragically, that money didn’t arrive within the landlord’s preferred timeframe. Chandra and her family were mercilessly thrust into homelessness. The multi-generational family included a teenager and a toddler, along with several other unnamed family members.

This is a tragic turn of events for the Dobbs family. The bright side is it isn’t emblematic of what’s happening nationwide.

Even with the moratorium gone and ERA funds moving slower than molasses, the latest data shows that eviction rates are still significantly lower than anticipated. Court records indicate that the vast majority of landlords are holding out for rent relief to reach them, even though relief programs are notoriously slow, understaffed, and ill-prepared.

Following a Painfully Slow Start, the ERA Funding Process is Finally Picking Up Its Pace

The day before the moratorium ended, the US Treasury reported that 89% of emergency rental assistance was yet to be disbursed. Government representatives blamed the lack of staff and reluctant landlords for the conundrum. Housing advocates claimed rental assistance forms were intentionally tedious, making the application process challenging to navigate for renters and landlords alike.

In some extreme cases, governments went so far as to reallocate the funding to departments that did not benefit or even relate to renters, such as police departments. Fortunately, enough pressure was placed on policymakers and landlords to make a turnaround. The ERA funding process is finally picking up pace.

According to the most recent US Treasury report, officials have awarded more than 510,000 renter households with rental assistance this past month. More than $10 billion of the $46 billion has since been made available.

Additionally, programs to incentivize landlords to wait for assistance rather than moving toward eviction are popping up nationwide. Some cities already vulnerable to homelessness, like New York City and Boston, implemented their own separate moratoriums. These, too, have helped to stave off homelessness by way of eviction.

While heartbreaking stories of eviction are still happening each day, the latest data shows a few encouraging trends emerging now in the aftermath of disaster.

Landlords File 3.7 Million Evictions Annually, Which is 3.7 Million Too Many

The government doesn’t currently keep a running tab on evictions. However, that may change now that the pandemic exposed the problem to the masses. Fortunately, the Eviction Lab has been filing away data that reveals an annual average of about 3.7 million evictions nationwide.

Eviction disproportionately affects families with children and communities of color. Even if an eviction doesn’t immediately lead to homelessness, it creates a difficult pathway for housing in the future.

Now that the pandemic has brought this problem to light, it’s time to do away with this inhumane practice. Alternatives to eviction should become a major priority in any political campaign moving forward. Contact your legislators about ending eviction and creating safe, affordable housing solutions.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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