Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) has been extraordinarily successful in helping millions of people avoid housing loss during the COVID-19 crisis, while also ensuring income to landlords.
The Department of Treasury announced in March that $30 billion of the $46.5 billion in ERA funds available has been expended to date. Of these expenditures 4.7 million payments have been made with most of the funds assisting households with incomes below 50 percent of area median income (AMI), and 60 percent to Black and Latino households. Two-thirds of households assisted are headed by single female head of households, reflecting the population at risk of eviction.
ERA resources are being depleted quickly and effectively. It also appears that the funds are doing what was intended and fending off a feared “eviction tsunami,” although the danger continues. Rising rental costs far exceed people’s income and federal investments in affordable housing consistently fall far short of the need. This essentially bakes in housing instability for millions. Housing instability will also continue to disparately impact Black, Indigenous and People of Color absent significant investment of federal resources and commitment to advancing equity.
As a temporary measure, ERA does little to address the long-term systemic ramifications of under-investment in affordable housing. However, it can (and does!) prevent homelessness and can help people experiencing homelessness reconnect to housing. Ensuring ERA is as effective as possible in ending homelessness requires reaching those at greatest risk.
ERA resources remain to assist them and forging partnerships between agencies administering ERA and nonprofit and governmental agencies serving highly vulnerable households will help achieve this. The crafting of such partnerships may be particularly important for grantees that have been slow to spend allocated funds and may face future rounds of reallocation.
Opportunities for Partnership Still Remain
Emergency Rental Assistance has been allocated in two separate tranches (ERA-1 and ERA-2) and on two different timelines. Despite clear progress in getting resources to needy households, significant ERA funds remain available to assist at-risk households and people experiencing homelessness.
Treasury has, and will continue to, recapture funds from grantees that are not meeting spending targets to assist vulnerable households. Those funds will be reallocated to other jurisdictions that have both high demand for additional funding and the capacity to administer it. Grantees, including state governments that were slow to spend ERA1 funds, can prevent future recapture of ERA2 funds by instituting new strategic partnerships to get resources to those who need it the most. This was recommended in instructions to grantees included in Treasury’s updated reallocation guidance: Grantees are encouraged to partner with local nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies to expedite the obligation process and delivery of assistance to eligible households.
Expanding Reach of ERA Through Partnerships
States and localities that have been slow to expend their ERA allocation, can increase the reach of assistance by partnering with nonprofit organizations and public programs that assist highly vulnerable households.
What could this look like for programs that serve people experiencing homelessness and populations at heightened risk of homelessness? The Richmond, VA area provides one such example. Housing Families First received ERA funds from Chesterfield County to help families – identified by homeless school liaisons who were residing in motels or doubled up situations throughout Chesterfield County — to secure new housing. This type of partnership, forged across multiple service sectors (schools, TANF agency, ERA administrator and homeless service program) allows families to bypass shelter stays and instead receive help to secure new housing.
Finding people at risk of housing loss and shelter entry — not just waiting for those at risk to find assistance – is critical to ensuring this initiative is a success. How could this strategy be built upon? By identifying the agencies and nonprofit organizations that serve populations at high risk of homelessness before they enter shelter, and dedicating resources there.
What These Partnerships Can Do
Incorporating this strategy might include implementing screening questions for agencies that assist people with very low incomes and at high risk of homelessness. This potentially includes those applying for SNAP assistance and TANF cash assistance, to identify those at imminent risk of homelessness and expedite the provision of aid.
It might include developing partnerships with programs serving people in crisis to expedite the provision of assistance and help them stay safe and secure housing. Strategies could also include partnerships with agencies serving child welfare-involved families who, in addition to facing housing loss and homelessness, may also be at risk of having children removed from their care or delayed reunification due to inadequate housing.
Additionally, it can include partnerships with domestic violence providers. These organizations receive calls daily from survivors who lack safe places to go – who may be able to avoid shelter stays altogether if they had the resources to preserve their housing or acquire new housing.
Dedicating resources to agencies that serve those already experiencing homelessness (or seeking homeless assistance) can also go a long way to preventing shelter entry and reducing stays in homelessness.
Partnerships with homeless service systems could facilitate:
- Expansion of diversion assistance to help individuals and families impacted by COVID-19 avoid shelter entry or unsheltered homelessness.
- Scaling up Rapid Re-Housing to assist more people exiting homelessness.
- Provision of security deposits, landlord incentives, and some limited housing navigation to help individuals and families with Emergency Housing Vouchers find and lease units.
- Dedicated interventions for families living in motels, doubled up, or in other precarious housing situations identified by homeless school liaisons.
Many state and local grantees are rapidly expending their ERA funds. Grantees that have depleted ERA funds may soon receive more funding through reallocation, providing new opportunities for partnerships. Other grantees have been slow in getting resources to those who need it the most and might benefit from partnering with state and local homeless advocacy organizations and programs to avoid having funds recaptured. Leveraging these partnerships can help steer resources to people who, before ERA, have been overlooked by traditional eviction prevention initiatives and have relied on people to find them.
The Alliance is eager to learn from the unique partnerships homeless service programs have crafted with ERA administrators to assist households who have already lost their housing, or are in highly precarious living situations. We look forward to sharing what we learn from you.