Research Roundup: The Importance of Emergency Rental Assistance

Date Published: 
June 30th, 2021

State of the Nation’s Report

Earlier this month, the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies released their annual State of the Nation’s Housing report. After a year of dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic fallout, many were eager to dive into the data within this report and analyze how economic conditions have concentrated their effects on lower income households. Although, evictions have been widely prevented over the past year due to a national eviction moratorium and, federal aid intended to avert housing displacement and provide shelter to those experiencing homelessness, there exists a growing fear that a tidal wave of evictions could be around the corner.

This report underscores how essential it is for the most recent round of emergency rental assistance (ERA) to be expedited to effectively reach at-risk households, especially those experiencing growing rental arrears. And while much of what is presented in this study speaks to the economic health of the housing landscape and resident finances, it also puts a spotlight on the need for housing investment as infrastructure, to repair deteriorating properties and combat the increasing threat of climate change. Below are some of the highlights from the study: 

  • More than, half of all renter households lost income between March 2020 and March 2021, with 17 percent behind on rent earlier this year, including nearly a quarter of those earning less than $25,000 and a fifth of those earning between $25,000 and $34,999. 
  • Nearly 29 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and 18 percent of Asian renters are in arrears, compared with just 11 percent of white renters. 
  • About a quarter of the renters with COVID related job losses reported that they had substantially depleted their savings, another quarter had borrowed from families and friends, and a tenth had turned to payday or personal loans. 
  • More than half of renter households (51 percent) had lost employment income due to the pandemic by late March 2021.  
  • Although down from a peak share of 19 percent in early January, one in seven renters was still in arrears in late March 2021 and at risk of being forced from their homes. 
  • Public housing groups estimated that the backlog of capital funding needed to address deficiencies in the stock of roughly one million units was $70 billion in 2019 and accruing at $3.4 billion per year. 
  • A 2019 analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and PolicyMap estimated the aggregate cost of addressing reported rental housing deficiencies at $45 billion, with median repair needs of $1,355 per unit. 

Summary: Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance Programs in 2021: Analysis of a National Survey

In April of this year, the Housing Initiative at Penn, NYU Furman Center, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, conducted a survey of 64 out of the 140 Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) programs around the nation. The purpose of this survey was to document and observe the evolution of ERA programs from early 2020 to spring of 2021, and to evaluate them with a focus on racial equity and effectiveness on getting funds to households.

However, due to most programs being in the early stages of administering funds, this survey concentrated on analyzing program design rather than outcomes. Overall, programs that had been administering funds since 2020 made significant changes to their programs in order to follow new FAQs, expedite funds efficiently, and locate those households most in need, while attempting to lower barriers to entry for historically marginalized communities. Below is a list of some of the reports key findings: 

  • Only 39% of programs allowed for direct-to-tenant assistance when a landlord chose not to participate. 
  • All programs that responded accepted self-attestation of COVID-19 related hardship to be eligible to receive assistance.  
  • Around 83% of respondents noted that they collected racial and ethnic information from applicants to better inform program design. 
  • Since 2020, 70% changed the eligibility requirements for applicants, 60% altered the application process, and 55% adjusted their outreach strategies to tenants/landlords. 
  • Common challenges were staff size, technical capacity, tenant, and landlord responsiveness. 


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