With the creation of the new CDC Eviction Moratorium, local governments now have an opportunity to accelerate the spending of $46.55 billion in emergency rental assistance (ERA) made available to prevent evictions through the American Rescue Plan and the December COVID-19 Relief Bill.
Here are 4 strategies cities should consider to accelerate the spending of emergency rental assistance before the CDC Eviction Moratorium expires on October 3:
1. Take a Whole Government and Community Approach to Distributing Funding
In this moment, the successful deployment of emergency rental assistance will require a whole government and community approach at the local level. This approach should consist of city, county and state government agencies as well as local and regional housing agencies, community-based organizations, courts, and legal services all working together to provide relief.
Working together means actively coordinating communication, outreach and engagement strategies as well as refining program design and implementation to provide needed relief to tenants and landlords—and collectively bolster funding, if needed.
2. Set Aside Funding to Augment City Staff and Provide Additional Support
To further assist the acceleration of spending emergency rental assistance, cities are strongly urged to set aside funding to financially support efforts such as hiring staff to be housing navigators and/or landlord-tenant coordinators to help households access the ERA program. With additional staff, tenants and landlords can access the program more efficiently and awareness about the program can be augmented beyond city hall.
Cities should also ensure their program website is easy to navigate and is available in plain language. Likewise, it is important to make sure alternative methods, such as paper-based applications, are available for tenants and landlords to apply to the program.
3. Anticipate and Eliminate Barriers for Tenants and Landlords
Accelerating the spending of emergency rental assistance also means anticipating and eliminating any barriers that make it difficult for residents to take advantage of vital services. Cities should consider the following:
- remove language and cultural barriers that prohibits participation in the ERA program,
- allow a streamlined payment option for utility providers or large landlords,
- cultivate a relationship with the courts and court staff,
- ensure city staff, including 211 and 311, are equipped to manage and respond to the daily influx of information and questions residents will have, and
- avoid limiting eviction prevention to just emergency rental assistance stand up an eviction diversion program.
4. Review and Learn from Current Emergency Rental Assistance Best Practices
Although, the delivery of emergency rental assistance varies by locality, cities can look to the following cities for best practices: Charlotte, NC, Memphis, TN, Houston, TX, Philadelphia, PA and Louisville, KY. Additionally, since the adoption of the American Rescue Plan, cities such as Benton Harbor, MI, Lakewood, OH, Newark, NJ, and Seattle, WA have used the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to either create or bolster emergency rental assistance programs in their community.
Cities can also glean from research what it takes to successfully deploy emergency rental assistance in your communities. Recent research has indicated administrators of emergency rental assistance programs should:
- center equity in program design and implementation,
- provide direct assistance to tenants,
- simplify application processes and allow self-attestation,
- work with trusted community partners,
- engage landlords,
- prioritize households with the greatest need; and
- incorporate racial equity in performance measures
As cities look to accelerate the spending of emergency rental assistance by October 3 to assist renter households as well as landlords impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important for municipalities to begin thinking and investing in maintaining and refining their eviction prevention infrastructure long-term to address housing instability permanently. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated evictions, it did not create it, and the lessons learned and tools implemented during this time are worth investing in long-term.