Within most US counties, tenants now have until Oct. 3 to get help from the government to pay their rent. The extra 60 days could prove essential given that just 10% of the $ 46 billion in federal emergency aid specifically allocated for this purpose had been distributed in July, with estimates showing that more than half of tenants and many homeowners across the country don’t even know about it. this help is available.
“The good news is that there are enough resources to help all tenants who fell behind on rent during the pandemic,” Diane Yentel, chair of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told CBSN this week. “The problem is, the money is not coming out fast enough.”
While the individual steps people need to take and the documents required vary depending on where they live, here are some key tips from housing advocates on how to get rental assistance.
First step: act quickly
While the government’s new moratorium on evictions has given tenants some breathing space, it’s still important to request a program as soon as possible.
“If you haven’t applied yet, you should do so immediately as it may take a long time to get that money to you,” Yentel said.
Even though the money takes months to arrive, submitting an application for rental assistance is an essential first step for tenants who may be at risk of eviction. In fact, in many states, including California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York State and Oregon, you are protected against deportation while your application is being processed.
So even if tenants are ultimately denied funds, they could at least earn a few more months to search for new accommodation, simply by asking for government assistance.
Find out if you qualify
According to Treasury Department guidelines, eligible households must meet three general conditions: they have lost money due to COVID-19 or its economic fallout; it is a low or middle income household (earning no more than 80% of the region’s median income and often much less); and they will have a hard time finding new accommodation.
In short, showing financial difficulty is the key. Applicants don’t necessarily have to have fallen ill with the coronavirus, but they must have lost income due to business closings, closings, layoffs, or family illness linked to COVID-19.
Beyond that, the details will depend on where you live and what program you are applying to. In addition, some programs will prioritize tenants based on the severity of their situation: those facing eviction, elderly, or earning a very low income may be moved to the first rank.
Find the right program
For tenants, figuring out where exactly to go can be the biggest hurdle. There are now over 450 rental assistance programs in cities, counties, states, and tribes across the United States, each with different requirements.
In most cases, tenants should go to the most local program they can find. Use an online search tool, such as consumerfinance.gov/renthelp or the Treasury Department website, to enter your address and find a program near you. If there is no local program serving your area, check what your state offers.
Renters can also call a hotline to find out which program to apply for and connect with a local nonprofit that will help them complete the application. Here are the rent assistance hotlines for the larger states:
Gather your documents
Once you’ve made an appointment or started an online rental assistance application, gather all the documents you might need. Having everything in one place could save you hours of work and untold stress.
“The most common thing that makes applying difficult or impossible on this day is people who don’t have all of their documents together,” said Jordan Dewbre, lawyer with BronxWorks, a nonprofit organization. which helps Bronx residents in New York City apply. for help. “They might not know that they need everyone’s income information… Maybe they haven’t had the awkward conversation with their roommate, namely ‘How much money do you have. you won last month? ‘”
Find out what is required of your local or state program. If you don’t have a specific document, ask what you can provide as a replacement.
Typically, applicants will be asked to prove their identity, place of residence and financial hardship in the face of COVID-19. This usually requires the following documents from all members of a household:
- Proof of income
- Social security number (for some programs)
- Proof of residence, such as a lease or utility bill
- Proof of how much rent you owe, such as a letter from your landlord or a statement from your management company or utility
Finding those last two documents has been a struggle for many tenants, noted Lakisha Morris, who administers the Emergency Rental Assistance Program for Catholic Charities in parts of New York City.
“The moratorium is in place and no one has asked for it,” she said. “You can’t apply if you can’t prove you’re in arrears.”
Lack of documentation won’t automatically sink your app, but you might have to get creative. Some programs allow applicants who do not have pay stubs to write a letter documenting their loss of income. In other cases, such as tenants who do not have a formal lease, bank statements can be used to verify rent payments before the pandemic.
However, the more documents you provide, the better your chances of getting help.
Learn where your landlord is
Not all programs require landlords to be on board for renters to get help. The latest congressional funding round allows rental assistance programs to give money directly to tenants if their landlord doesn’t cooperate.
“When the programs were first rolled out, you needed owner buy-in to get help,” said Jeffrey Uno, senior attorney at the Eviction Defense Center at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “They got away from it, luckily, because they found that a lot of homeowners don’t want to participate – they just want the person out. Now, some programs will provide money directly to tenants. ”
However, if you can successfully engage your landlord, it will be much easier to ask for help. This is because landlords have access to documents, such as a lease or proof of rent arrears, which are essential for seeking assistance. Meanwhile, many programs are reluctant to give money directly to tenants, even if it follows the rules.
“On the New York side, the focus is on involving landlords and tenants. If one of them doesn’t participate, that doesn’t happen,” said Dewbre of BronxWorks.
Housing experts recommend that tenants speak to their landlord if they can. Most community groups that help with program applications will work with landlords as well as tenants, and most programs will allow either party to begin the application process.
Keep receipts and check your email
Once you’ve submitted a rental assistance request, document it. Take a screenshot or even a photo of an online application confirmation page and save any emails confirming the status of your application. Keep the request reference number handy in case you want to follow up later with a call to verify its status.
Stay alert. Answer your phone and check your emails, even the spam folder. Cases have surfaced of tenants being left in the dark because rent request emails went straight to their junk mail, City Limits reported last month.
“The biggest hurdle is people not checking email or checking phone calls,” said Meghan Heddings, executive director of Family Housing Resources in Tucson, Arizona. “There are a lot of people we really have a hard time keeping the correspondence with.”
Once you have applied for rental assistance, it may take weeks or months to process your application. Housing advocates advise tenants to be patient, but to check back periodically, as they might find they are missing a document or need something else to move the request forward.
“Track applications – be sure to contact the social worker who is helping you, answers calls, checks those emails,” Uno said.
“It’s really easy to say ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and you get discouraged,” he continued. “I would really like to urge people to apply and be diligent – keep your eyes on the ball and don’t give up. It happens – people get help.”