New Study Examines How Emergency Rental Assistance Programs Can Prevent Homelessness

Date Published: 
July 6th, 2022

A newly published study from researchers at the NYU Furman Center analyzes how Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Programs can be designed to prevent homelessness. The study draws on in-depth interviews with 15 ERA Program administrators and data from two rounds of a national survey on such programs. A vast majority of program administrators noted during interviews that preventing homelessness was a top priority of their programs alongside preventing evictions. However, many of these programs generally were aimed at rental assistance too far upstream of tenants who were at immediate risk.

By 2021, many ERA programs had relaxed their eligibility criteria, and 70% of program administrators reported that their programs had undergone multiple iterations since their inception. The study authors posit that these changes in program criteria and eligibility were due to changes in federal guidance, as well as the prioritization of administrative efficiency over program flexibility for many surveyed programs. Some programs allowed both paper and online applications, and 65% of programs in 2020 allowed recipients to self-attest to COVID-related income losses. Many administrators shared that strict documentation requirements may exclude the most at-risk households from accessing the ERA funds.

The study identified that another barrier to reaching the most vulnerable households could be who the program designates as the subsidy recipient. Programs that required payments to go to a landlord on behalf of an eligible tenant created multiple problems for tenants at risk of becoming homeless. When tenants must engage their landlords in the application process, the increased complexity can pose a challenge for tenants – particularly in cases where tenants don’t know their landlords well. Further, when tenants have adverse relationships with their landlords, the landlord could reject the payment, causing psychological stress for tenants and increasing their risk of becoming homeless.  Analysis of programs showed that in 2020 only 9% of programs surveyed allowed assistance payments to flow directly to tenants, whereas in 2021, 65% of programs surveyed allowed payments to go directly to tenants in the event of landlord nonresponse or noncooperation.

Effectiveness of ERA programs on preventing homelessness prevention was also largely impacted by the amount of the subsidy provided to tenants. The analysis of surveyed programs found that in 2020, most programs offered assistance for 3 months or less, and that for many households this was insufficient to cover their total rent arrears or the full cost of future rent. By 2021 nearly 94% of surveyed programs covered at least 3 months of forward rent and more than 6 months of arrears, which likely reduced the risk of eviction and homelessness for recipient households.


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