The U.S. Department of the Treasury is expanding the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program by reallocating unused funds, officials announced in January.
The ERA program, part of the American Rescue Plan passed in May 2021, provides emergency assistance to those facing or at risk of eviction. The first-ever special-purpose voucher program created by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to address homelessness not specific to veterans provides money to housing organizations for administration and service fees.
Funding can be used to pay:
- landlord incentives
- tenants’ security and utility deposits
- housing search assistance
- furniture and household goods
- other forgotten expenses for families directly transitioning from homelessness
“The Emergency Rental Assistance program, in combination with other administration initiatives, has kept millions of families in their homes and averted what many predicted would be a wave of evictions during the pandemic,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Adewale Adeyemo in a release. “[This] announcement reflects a concerted effort to reallocate funds to programs that have demonstrated particular success in deploying rental assistance and will help put more funds into the hands of families facing urgent need.”
More than $46 billion in funding has been distributed nationwide. In order to ensure that money is being used efficiently, the Treasury set a series of benchmarks for spending ERA funds, redistributing money to communities who demonstrated the greatest need, and program capacity.
As of Sept. 30, 2022, more than 9.7 million households had received assistance from the program.
According to a recent federal study, that money went to the families and individuals who needed it most. Researchers found that 64 percent of recipients were extremely low-income renters—more than twice their share of the eligible population.
Black renters’ share of the recipient population was 21 to 22 percentage points higher than their share of the eligible population, which matches existing research that Black renters are the most likely to receive eviction notices.
People who identify as women are also highly likely to face eviction. That share of recipients was 14 to 15 percentage points higher than their share of eligible renters. Also overrepresented were renters identifying as American Indian/Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, or Hawaiian native.
The Emergency Rental Assistance program has benefits beyond helping renters remain in their homes.
A study by the Joint Housing for Housing Studies at Harvard found that emergency rental aid not only helped people get caught up on back rent and utility payments but also helped improve their general financial well-being and mental health.
“More than half of renter households experienced income losses during the pandemic, and these households were much more likely to tap into resources that could harm their future financial stability,” like exhausting their savings or borrowing from family and friends, study author Whitney Airgood-Obrycki wrote.
ERA, meanwhile, can prevent reliance on these more extensive networks, thus preventing a “[wider] financial fallout of employment loss to broader communities.”
The relief of financial pressure, Airgood-Obrycki wrote, has an undeniable effect on mental health.
“Households who receive ERA are likely making fewer tradeoffs in other expenses, as is evident in the reduced probability of experiencing food insecurity,” she wrote. “ERA may also be conferring mental health benefits by increasing housing stability and reducing financial stress. ERA recipients do, in fact, have lower rates of mental health concerns.”
Airgood-Obrycki expressed concerns about the temporary nature of the program.
“The lack of sustained assistance will likely be a problem going forward,” she wrote. “As of April 2022, a full 13 percent of renters were still behind on rent, and 16 percent had recently lost employment income. Lower-income renters of color have taken the brunt of the pandemic’s impacts, and addressing rent shortfalls for these households is particularly important for advancing racial equity.”
“Additionally, with the broader economy approaching full employment, continued high rates of arrears and loss of income highlight the fact that lower-income renters face ongoing financial stresses beyond the immediate impact of the pandemic. This points to the need for continued support to keep people stably housed, either through additional emergency assistance programs or through expanded assistance programs.”
Indeed, while the program’s expansion is laudable, the government has not made the program permanent, as some housing officials have advocated.
“The need is always going to be greater than what the resources are,” San Diego Housing Commission Executive Vice President of Rental Assistance and Workforce Development Azucena Valladolid told Invisible People in December. “I’d like to see more vouchers coming across. I would like to see the EHV make a permanent program with a permanent funding source on a long-term basis.”
Learn more about the program, including how to apply.