Getting Rental Assistance to Those Who Need it Most
Rental assistance funds for residents and housing providers impacted by COVID-19 are being made available as part of local CARES Act relief funding. This is positive news for the 1.4 million people experiencing unemployment and the thousands of housing providers who are also struggling to cover costs and maintain quality housing.
These resources are finite and there is debate about how to equitably distribute funds to those who need it most. One proposal is to base qualifications on an individual’s estimated annual income, regardless of whether or not they are currently unemployed. For example, rental assistance would only be available for those making 50% area median income (AMI). However, someone making greater than 50% of AMI prior to the pandemic, but who is now unemployed without any income, may not be able to receive crucial rental assistance because this criteria does not take their employment status into consideration.
This type of restrictive income-based criteria also creates a domino effect. When residents are unable to pay rent, their housing provider may not be able meet their commitment on their mortgage and to make their tax payments. The impact of this non-payment overtime is the loss of a critical rental unit in an already sparse rental housing market.
Relief is finite and we must find ways to prioritize. But what we don’t want to see is people turned away before they have a chance to even request funding that is badly needed. Instead of utilizing pre-COVID income levels to distribute rental assistance funds, policymakers should prioritize relief for residents who are experiencing unemployment due to COVID-19 regardless of their prior income. This approach would ensure that anyone currently without income due to COVID-19 is eligible for housing assistance.
Broadly, we strongly urge the Congress and the Administration to quickly pass a new relief bill that reinstates additional federal unemployment benefits, which we know has been essential in allowing people to continue to pay their rent and other bills. Congress should also allocate specific funding for rental relief for those that continue to struggle with their housing costs specifically.
These efforts will help relieve pressure on those impacted by COVID-19 and support our housing system which is under enormous stress due to the pandemic.