What You Need to Know About Applying for Rental Assistance

The national ban on evictions ended over the summer, but that doesn’t mean renters don’t have other types of aid they can apply for. Many Americans were hit hard by the pandemic and were unable to pay their bills. Others are still struggling to pay rent on time. Luckily, Congress has allocated over billions of dollars in rental assistance to help struggling renters, and very little of it has been spent thus far. 

Renters who are approved for relief could qualify for up to 18 months of rent coverage. If you’re a renter affected by the pandemic making less money or still struggling to find employment, now is the time to act and help yourself stay in your home longer. Here’s what you need to know about applying for rental assistance. 

Getting Rental Assistance

Renters and landlords can apply for rental assistance to cover rent, utility costs, and more. State and local agencies can help renters apply for rental assistance and determine whether or not they’re eligible. No matter where you live, you can do a quick search online for the rental assistance available where you live. From there, you can call the agency to talk about your options. 

What’s Covered?

Emergency rental assistance aid can help cover the cost of rent, along with many other items related to renting costs, including:

  • Past-due rent
  • Past-due utility bills
  • Late fees
  • Internet
  • Moving expenses
  • Application fees
  • Security deposits

What is Required?

Many state and local applications might require your landlord to submit the required documentation. In addition, most programs require funds to be sent directly to the landlord or utility company, bypassing the renter so they can ensure the money went to where it was supposed to go. 

In many places, these requirements have been relaxed so applications can be easily processed. However, you should pay attention to the instructions in your area. If you need your landlord to submit documentation, make sure you have a conversation with them before going to the housing agency. 

When you apply for rental assistance, make sure you have documentation of your current situation. This documentation may include:

Even if the area where you live has already given out much of its rental assistance funding, you can still apply for aid. Many states expect to receive more federal funding for emergency rental assistance, which means renters can expect to have the option for assistance through 2022.

Rental Assistance Can Be Slow

Emergency rental assistance was first approved at the end of 2020, but the guidance from the government for fund distribution wasn’t granted until February. It took time for that guidance to reach the agencies it needed to reach to start helping those in need. 

Those who signed up to distribute the funding included cities, states, and tribes. The new American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was authorized in March of 2021 and is being distributed to grantees. 

Getting rental assistance is a process that will take time. After you’ve submitted your application, the agency must validate your information and determine whether or not you’re eligible and for how much, which can take time and resources. 

The Treasury is Reallocating Aid

There have been backlogs of applications resulting in the delayed distribution of aid, which the Treasury has urged local governments to rely on a declaration from tenants to determine when there is no documentation. Rental assistance programs can use those self-attestations to verify information about financial hardship, loss of income, and the risk of housing instability. 

State and local programs can distribute funds to landlords and utility companies based on what they’re owed while waiting for documentation requirements. They can also provide rent payments to landlords to sign on renters who may have previously been evicted or homeless. 

Around 500 different government agencies are trying to distribute funds and accelerate the process for renters and landlords. The Treasury is determining how to reallocate funds that haven’t yet been committed to speed up the processes and make getting rental assistance easiest for those who need it most. 

Unfortunately, some states may reject the funds, which means they will go to other states. If this happens, families in the rejected state will not be able to get rental assistance. 

How Do I Apply?

You can apply directly with your local or state agency. You can also use the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s online tool to help you find programs and apply. 

Do I Qualify

While eligibility is ultimately determined by the program and state, to be eligible for funding, one member of the household must be eligible for unemployment benefits. If they aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, they must attest they’ve lost income or can’t afford rent due to the pandemic. You should also be prepared to document any risk of homelessness, such as an eviction notice or past-due rent or utility notices. 

Additionally, your income from the past year may not exceed 80% of your area’s median income. However, states typically prioritize those who are at 50% or lower, but you might still be eligible. 

Some programs may also have additional requirements you’ll need to search for.

What Can I Receive?

If you are eligible, you may receive up to 18 months of rental assistance, which can include a mix of back payments and future rent. If you continue to fall behind even with rental assistance, you might be able to reapply for assistance at a different time. 

It’s important to note that rental assistance will likely not go directly to you. Instead, your landlord will get it. 

Problems Getting Assistance

Many people have had issues getting assistance. There are several problems, including a complicated application process and long applications. Unfortunately, municipalities are concerned about scammers that might be trying to take money away from the people who need it most, so they make applications difficult. However, this application process only hinders those who truly need rental assistance. 

Prevent Eviction

If you’re worried about eviction, apply for rental assistance as soon as possible. Your rights will vary by state, so try to learn what you can before you begin the application. Many states have lifted the eviction ban, but some might still be in place. If your landlord has threatened to evict you, consider working with a low-cost lawyer.

Matt Casadona

Matt Casadona has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, with a concentration in Marketing and a minor in Psychology. Matt is passionate about marketing and business strategy and enjoys San Diego life, traveling, and music.

Jared Freen

Jared is a dynamic and driven journalist with a passion for uncovering the truth and sharing untold stories. With over a decade of experience reporting from the front lines of some of the world's most volatile regions, Jared has a reputation for fearlessly pursuing the facts, no matter how challenging or dangerous the situation.