How does Emergency Rental Assistance Work?

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State and local programs are distributing billions of dollars in rental assistance to help renters stay housed during the pandemic. Emergency rental assistance helps renters and landlords make ends meet.

Suppose you’re a renter having trouble paying your rent, utilities, or other housing costs or a landlord trying to stay afloat with tenants in this situation. In that case, help may be available, says Eviction Free MKE. State and local programs are taking applications from renters and landlords to distribute money from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program in their communities.

If you’re a landlord, you may think of rental assistance as help for renters. But right now, most federal emergency rental assistance programs accept applications from landlords. Where renters can apply, they often need your help to complete the process and make payments to you.

How do you apply for emergency rental assistance?

You apply through your local emergency rental assistance (ERA) program. Each local program has some flexibility in setting up policies and procedures to suit the local community’s needs. For example, you can apply for rental assistance yourself in some areas. In other areas, landlords need to apply first.

Find a rental assistance program for your state, tribe, or local area

Use the search bar to find programs in your area.

What does emergency rental assistance cover?

The federal ERA Program allows local programs to cover rent, utilities, and home energy costs. This includes electricity, gas, fuel oil, water and sewer, and trash removal. If your landlord normally pays for utilities or home energy costs, these are counted as part of your rent.

Rental assistance may also cover:

  • Reasonable late fees (if not included in your rental or utility debt)
  • Internet service to your home
  • Moving expenses and other rental-related fees (such as security deposits, application fees, or screening fees) for families who have to move

Some programs may also provide housing counseling, case management, legal representation, and other housing stability services.

Are you eligible for emergency rental assistance?

To be eligible for help covering your rent, you must have an agreement to pay rent for your home or mobile home lot. You don’t necessarily need to have a signed lease, and your home could be an apartment, house, mobile home, or another place, says Eviction Free MKE.

These three statements also need to be true:

  1. At least one member of your household has:
  • Qualified for unemployment or should qualify
  • Lost income
  • Owed large expenses, OR
  • Had other financial hardships

2. Your household income is below a certain amount, based on your location.

3. At least one member of your household is experiencing housing instability, which means they are at risk of becoming homeless or would have trouble finding a stable place to live

When you apply for emergency rental help, you will be asked to show that your income is eligible and that you are experiencing housing instability. If you’re a landlord, eligibility is based on your tenant’s household needs, and you’ll be asked to show that your tenant’s household is eligible for assistance.