Over 10 million Americans are behind on rent due to the effects of COVID-19. The relief bill passed in late December extends benefits and protections to Americans hard-hit by the pandemic, including $25 billion in rental assistance funds.
Designed to help Americans who are struggling to afford rent and are at risk of homelessness, rental assistance funds are available for those who have lost income as a result of the pandemic and meet certain maximum income thresholds. Funds could cover up to twelve months of rent and utilities for those who qualify, plus an additional three months if funds are available.
How to determine if you qualify for rental assistance
In order to qualify for rental assistance, you need to demonstrate that the pandemic has adversely affected you or your household. If a member of your household qualifies for unemployment or has otherwise lost their source of income, you may qualify.
Applicants also need to show that they’re at risk of becoming homeless by demonstrating past due rent or utility bills. Your household must make under 80% of the median income in your area in order to qualify, and funds will be prioritized for applicants making under 50% of the median income.
Your income can refer either to your total household income for 2020, or your monthly household income when you apply. If the assistance is based on your monthly income, you’ll need to document your income eligibility every three months.
How to apply for rental assistance
How you should apply for rental assistance depends on where you live. Different states and cities have different application processes, and many partner with existing organizations or charities in order to effectively distribute funds.
You can look up COVID-19 emergency rental assistance programs in your area using the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s rental assistance tool. If you’re having trouble finding a program, you can get in touch with your representatives, your state’s housing department, or local housing groups in order to get help.
Applications can be submitted by eligible individuals or by their landlords. If your application is accepted, funds will generally be paid directly to your landlord and service providers. You can reapply for additional assistance if necessary.
How much you could receive
Eligible applicants can receive as much as up to 12 months of assistance, plus an additional three months if funds are still available.
Payment for past-due rent that could result in an eviction is prioritized. This means that, while the actual funding amount depends on how much your rent and utility bills are, funding is designed to cover up to a year of rent and related expenses for Americans impacted by the pandemic.
What to do if you’re facing eviction
If you’re facing eviction, you should apply for relief funds as soon as you can. You should also fill out an Eviction Declaration Form and give it to your landlord in order to qualify for the extended eviction moratorium. The moratorium has been extended by President Biden until at least the end of March via executive order.
Individual states and cities may also have additional orders in place to protect renters against eviction. If your landlord refuses to comply with the eviction moratorium, you can get legal help.
What to do if you don’t qualify
Even if you don’t qualify for rental assistance, you could still be eligible for other pandemic relief programs. These include stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits.
Otherwise known as Economic Impact Payments, stimulus checks are available for Americans who meet certain maximum impact requirements. In addition to the $1,200 payments passed in the spring, many Americans are now eligible to receive an additional $600 thanks to the bill passed in December. You may qualify if your income is under $75,000 for individuals and under $150,000 for households. Parents and guardians can also receive $600 for each eligible child.
As part of President Biden’s proposed new stimulus package, Americans may also be eligible for an additional $1,400 check if the bill passes. This check, along with the previous $600 check, is designed to add up to a total of $2,000. However, the amount of this third check isn’t yet set in stone, and it may end up being higher or lower than $1,400 if the bill passes.
The December relief bill also extended unemployment benefits after a gap in coverage. These benefits include an additional $300 per week on top of regular unemployment benefits, extending up to March 14th. The benefit is available for workers who earn at least $1 in state unemployment benefits.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for freelancers and self-employed individuals is also extended until March 14th. A new unemployment benefit for workers called the Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation program, adds $100 to unemployment benefits for workers who are both traditionally employed and self-employed if they earn at least $5,000 in self-employment income per year and are already receiving Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.
President Biden has extended the eviction moratorium until the end of March via executive order, and has also encouraged Congress to further extend it until September as part of the new stimulus bill. States and local governments have also issued their own eviction moratoriums. If you’re evicted for a reason other than failure to pay rent due to the pandemic, or are otherwise struggling to find housing, there are a variety of shelters and housing organizations that can provide temporary housing.
Other aid sources
If you’re struggling because of the pandemic, there are a variety of other local aid sources you should take advantage of it. These include:
- Self Employment Assistance for individuals looking to start their own business after becoming unemployed.
- U.S. Department of Labor employment or training programs.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for current or expecting parents.
- SNAP benefits.
- Food banks like Feeding America and No Kid Hungry.
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
- The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
- Local 211 COVID-19 resources.
- State resources for housing, food, and legal assistance.
Additional rental assistance on the horizon
According to Moody’s Analytics, Americans behind on rent owe a total of $57 billion in rent, utilities, and late fees. This means that the initial $25 billion designated for rental assistance in December likely won’t be enough.
President Biden has called for $30 billion in rental assistance as part of the latest stimulus package on the table. While this bill hasn’t yet passed, it could provide additional relief for Americans struggling to make rent each month.
If you’re behind on rent payments and worried about eviction, the latest round of COVID-19 rental assistance can help. If you meet certain eligibility requirements, you may be able to receive funds that cover up to twelve months of rental expenses, plus an additional three months if there are enough funds left over.
If you don’t qualify for rental assistance but are still struggling, there are other resources available to help. President Biden’s proposed economic rescue package could also provide additional assistance for Americans hard-hit by the pandemic.