At the heart of the eviction debate has been the government’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which allotted $46.5 billion in funds to help renters who are struggling to pay their monthly housing obligations due to the coronavirus pandemic. But where is the money?
A Slow Drip When a Deluge Is Needed
Many have argued that the application and disbursement process has been botched, and a new report from the Treasury Department, which oversees the program, shows just how much delays have impacted the program—about 89% of ERAP funds have not yet been distributed.
While July proved more fruitful than June, with firm pressure put on the government to speed up the process, only $5.1 billion has been disbursed so far—a meager 11% of the total funds available since the program was enacted last September.
Real Estate Goes to Court
In order to stave off a potential wave of evictions as the moratoriums came to a close, President Joe Biden reinstated a modified version on Aug. 3, targeting regional COVID hot-spots and providing a 60-day extension so renters had more time to access the much-needed emergency relief funds.
The moratorium extension, however, has not been widely embraced, with several housing organizations and associations outwardly opposing the move, claiming the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has exceeded its authority regarding the ban.
Since then, some efforts have made their way into courtrooms, with the latest push to overthrow the eviction moratorium thrown out. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said her hands were tied due to an earlier court decision.
The eviction moratorium still hangs in the balance of these ongoing complaints, however. Plaintiffs could challenge the policy with the D.C. Circuit and will likely appeal.
Progress on the Way?
In July, more than 340,000 households received about $1.7 billion in rental and utilities assistance—an estimated 15% increase since June, and more than double the number of households assisted in May.
The Treasury Department believes ERAP disbursement is speeding up even more in August, and several incremental changes recently implemented should put increased pressure on state and local agencies as well.
According to the White House, assistance is reaching those who most sorely need it. ERAP is being disbursed to the lowest-income tenants, with over 60% of the households served earning no more than 30% of the area median income.
Immediate Changes to the Program
Last week several housing organizations united to form a coalition—including the National Association of REALTORS®, the Mortgage Bankers Association, the National Association of Home Builders and more—and recently requested that several changes be made to ERAP in order to improve the application and distribution process.
“While many jurisdictions are successfully increasing their ERAP disbursement, others are fraught with significant application processing and payment delivery delays,” read a letter from the coalition. “These are largely attributable to grantees’ self-imposed fraud prevention measures, mandates that deter housing provider participation, misapplication of statutory requirements and lack of engagement from certain eligible residents.”
Calls to expedite the process have been seemingly answered. The Treasury Department has just imposed the following changes:
- Simplifying the application process by allowing self-attestation
- Allowing state and local agencies to rely on self-attestation alone to verify household income eligibility during the public health emergency
- Allowing state and local grantees to provide advances in rental assistance to landlords and utility providers if they expect the application to go through
- Allowing state and local grantees to partner with non-profits to assist at-risk households while they await application processing
- Allowing grantees to make additional payments to renters with a challenged past, such as those who have faced eviction or homelessness in the past year
- Providing funds to cover outstanding debt at an eligible tenant’s previous address at their request
- Covering debts incurred to appear in court on rent-related matters
For more information on the new measures, click here.
Tackling the Most Prominent Challenges First
While lender concerns surrounding inconsistencies and potential errors have cropped up amid calls to push applications through as quickly as possible, the White House has pushed back, citing a looming wave of evictions as the more severe repercussion should the fund disbursement process remain stagnant.
Rich Nightingale, president and CEO of Westhab, an affordable-housing organization that acquires vacant buildings and renovates them into permanent housing, says he applauds the efforts made by the federal government to ease the ERAP paperwork burden and streamline the process.
“Even with well-intentioned policy, there are often onerous documentation requirements, which prevent funds from going where they are needed most. Creating an easier process will ensure that organizations such as ours can deliver support quickly to those in need of rental assistance and in turn, prevent homelessness,” says Nightingale. “During the eviction moratorium, many households have been able to avoid homelessness. As we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to help people stay permanently housed and not return to the old normal.”
This is a developing story, stay tuned to RISMedia for more updates.
Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s senior online editor. Email her your real estate news ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.