In December, the United States Congress passed a COVID-19 relief package that included $25 billion in assistance for housing through the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program. Of that total, it is estimated that the City of Charlotte will receive $26.7M and Mecklenburg County will receive $6.7M. In addition, as part of a budget reconciliation process, the House Financial Services Committee has introduced a COVID-19 relief bill with improvements to the ERA program and additional funding; this will both extend and deepen support for struggling households.
This new funding infusion can enable communities to help households across the continuum, preventing new households from becoming homeless and quickly re-housing households who are currently homeless. However, it is essential that communities put these critical resources to their highest and best use. A recently released national survey of 200 emergency rental assistance programs using COVID-19-related funding reveals lessons learned for communities to consider as new relief funding is allocated.
This week’s blog post will provide an overview of the COVID-19 relief funding and program improvements; highlight three examples of COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Rental Programs; and describe what this could mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
COVID-19 RELIEF: WHAT’S NEW, WHAT’S CHANGED
According to the FAQ issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury, the ERA Program dollars within the December 2020 COVID-19 relief package must target households with income at or below 80% of Area Median Income; be used for housing related expenses, like rent and utilities (current and arrears); and can last up to 12 months, with a possible extension of up to 15 months. The COVID-19 relief bill recently introduced by the House Financial Services Committee expands and improves upon the ERA program by extending assistance up to 18 months; allowing for the funding to be spent through September 2025; and broadening the eligibility guidelines. In addition to $19.05B in ERA funding, there is $5B included for emergency housing vouchers, and another $5B to support households experiencing homelessness with immediate and long-term assistance. This support includes converting properties into non-congregate housing and/or funding other permanent housing solutions. These additional funds and improvements could be enacted as part of a new COVID-19 relief bill by mid-March; this is also when expanded unemployment benefits and other resources expire.
EMERGENCY RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS: WHAT’S WORKED?
The University of Pennsylvania’s Housing Initiatives, the NYU Furman Center, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition conducted an analysis of over 200 emergency rental assistance programs that were funded with COVID-19 relief dollars during the past year. Below is a summary of the key findings:
- Leveraging existing programs, networks, partnerships, and infrastructure contributed to faster funding allocations to the households who needed it.
- Flexible funding and/or programming enables quicker funding distribution.
- Targeting assistance to households with the lowest income was more effective at distributing assistance than programs targeting households with moderate incomes.
- Programs with increased or more stringent requirements for landlord participation resulted in serving fewer households.
SPOTLIGHTING THREE COMMUNITY EXAMPLES
Wake County, North Carolina
Wake County (North Carolina) implemented the House Wake! COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Program to keep more than 3,000 households from being evicted. The program, which was originally funded with $17 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), has three components: prevention; mediation; and relocation assistance, should prevention or mediation prove ineffective for a particular household. Financial assistance is given to both tenants and landlords to cover rental shortfalls from loss of income. The program paid a portion of the rent (from March 2020 through December 2020) in exchange for landlords agreeing to forgive the remainder; discount rent during the period from January 2021 through March 2021; and forego eviction. The program is currently being revamped according to align with the new ERA guidelines.
Harris County, Texas
The Harris County COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program combines CRF funding from the City of Houston ($35M) with CRF funding from Harris County ($40M) to support both tenants and landlords. To participate and receive assistance, landlords must be willing to give tenants credit for partial payments; waive all late fees, penalties and interest for past-due rent; provide a minimum 10% discount on all past-due rent; enter into payment plans with tenants who are impacted by COVID-19 and behind on rental payments; refrain from serving a tenant with a notice to vacate for 60 days from the date of receiving a rental assistance program payment; halt evictions that qualify for protection under the CDC enacted moratorium; and to not interfere with the tenant’s possession of the unit. Tenants must have household income at or below 60% AMI; be unable to pay rent due to an economic or health-related impact of COVID-19; and not received any other financial assistance. The Rental Assistance Program provided funding for past due rent for April through November 2020.
King County, Washington
The King County Eviction Prevention and Rent Assistance Program is administered by the King County Department of Community and Human Services. The program has identified three main areas of impact to both distribute the $41M funding quickly and serve as many households as possible: pay some large residential landlord properties and manufactured home parks in bulk payments for eligible tenants; distribute tenant rental assistance to smaller landlords whose eligible tenants qualify for assistance through a lottery process; and prioritize funding for the highest-need individuals and ZIP codes in King County. High need ZIP codes are defined as those in the top 20 percent of area ZIP codes with continued unemployment claims per capita, COVID-19 incidence rates, and COVID-19 deaths per capita. To date, the program has distributed over $36M that has served 8,974 households (out of 25,136 who expressed a need for assistance); 414 small landlords and 418 larger landlords have received funding.
As new funding is allocated for housing and homelessness relief, it marks an important moment for communities like Charlotte-Mecklenburg to pause and consider strategic alignment and appropriation of all housing and homelessness funding across the full housing continuum for maximum efficacy.
The ERA Program provides some of the needed relief to complement the protections put in place by the CDC enacted eviction moratorium. It is important for communities to remember that both tenants and landlords need protections. This is especially true for landlords with properties which comprise the community’s current Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) inventory. With an already growing gap for more permanent affordable housing, preserving what is already affordable is vital.
The ERA program examples highlighted provide support to both tenants and landlords; include rapid-response mechanisms that could be transformed into permanent infrastructure; and have the potential to positively impact the entire continuum of housing and homelessness, leading to better outcomes in other areas, including public health and civic well-being.
Courtney LaCaria coordinates posts on the Building Bridges Blog. Courtney is the Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. Courtney’s job is to connect data on housing instability, homelessness and affordable housing with stakeholders in the community so that they can use it to drive policy-making, funding allocation and programmatic change.