National Survey on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program Highlights Its Challenges

Date Published: 
October 5th, 2021

The Housing Initiative at Penn, NYU Furman Center and National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) published a brief profiling results from an April 2021 survey of 64 Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Programs. The brief focuses on key program design features, challenges and changes as ERA programs launched nationwide to support struggling renters during the pandemic. The national survey collected from program administrators, 69% of whom represented a government agency, indicated that “despite substantial changes since the earliest iterations of COVID-19 rental assistance programs, survey data indicate that many programs launched in early 2021 continued to implement documentation requirements that potentially exclude vulnerable households, did not offer a direct-to-tenant assistance, and failed to publicly make known opportunities for either direct-to-tenant assistance or self-attestation.

The survey reported the following consistencies across national ERA programs:

  • Most programs required tenants to document their income (96%) and provide proof of COVID-19-related financial hardship (75%).
  • Staff capacity was one of the top challenges. Each respondent indicated that they added or expect to add staff capacity to run the ERA program. The most common strategies for increasing staff capacity included hiring temporary staff (88%), reassigning existing staff (67%), and partnering with community-based or nonprofit organizations for specific aspects of program administration (47%).
  • More than half (56%) of programs experienced challenges related to tenant responsiveness. Program administrators noted that it “often requires a lot of follow-up with tenants to obtain proper eligibility documentation [and] some never end up providing documents,” that “tenants are hard to reach or uncooperative in some cases,” and that some landlords complained their tenants were not coming forward to apply.

The brief concludes that while this report captured key characteristics of the earliest ERA programs, additional surveying is needed to elucidate how continuously evolving U.S. Treasury Department guidance shapes program design. Click here to review the full brief.  

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