At a House Financial Services Committee hearing last Friday, Democrats and Republicans agreed that COVID-related rental assistance has been slow to reach tenants and landlords. But the deal largely ended there, as elected officials and guest witnesses clashed over how to initiate the disbursement, with much of the allotted money unspent even though millions of tenants were threatened with deportation as pandemic protections expire.
“There is no question that funds are not reaching landlords and tenants quickly enough,” said Maxine Waters, Democratic Representative from California and chair of the committee, in her opening statement.
For tenants, slow aid payments can mean an increased risk of eviction, and for landlords, it can mean less income to maintain a building.
The basics of rental assistance
Congress has authorized $ 46 billion in rental assistance since the start of the pandemic and has ensured that those funds are distributed locally. Tenants have had very different experiences in requesting and receiving this assistance depending on where they live. Some municipalities distributed most of the money allocated to them, while others distributed only a small part.
The New York Times reported that only about 40 percent of eligible tenants are receiving assistance or are temporarily protected from eviction by local regulations.
Typically, the program is structured such that tenants must apply, but landlords must accept funding and ultimately receive disbursements directly.
Corrections proposed for rental assistance
Diane Yentel, chief executive officer of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a witness at Friday’s hearing, said small adjustments to the legislation would go a long way in making funding more accessible nationwide.
Among his proposals, most of which were included in a Democratic bill to update programs, included suggestions that municipalities and landlords should do more outreach to ensure tenants are aware of the l help available. She also said local administrators should hire more staff to handle requests for help and tenants should be allowed to receive the funds directly, even if their landlords did not want to participate.
Another speed bump, she noted, was that some places required formal documentation of the pandemic’s impact on a tenant’s ability to pay, even though the White House and the Treasury Department have said the self-attestation was acceptable. Yentel said stricter enforcement of these guidelines would give tenants a boost.
What other resources are available?
If you’re having trouble paying your rent, you should be in touch with your landlord to keep them posted and possibly work out a payment plan.
Next, you should contact your state or local housing authority to see what is involved in applying for rent assistance.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Rental Assistance Finder is designed to help tenants and landlords easily find and apply for assistance with rent, utilities and other expenses, said the agency in a press release.
If you don’t have regular access to a computer, housing advocacy or legal groups in your area may be able to help you complete your application, so it’s worth contacting them as well.
At the end of the line
The coronavirus pandemic has affected tenants much more than landlords when it comes to housing stability. The federal government has made billions of dollars available in rent assistance, but it has been slow to reach tenants in many areas. Most cities and states have resources to help you if you’re behind on rent, and it’s important to do your research and get the help you’re entitled to.
(Visit Bankrate online at bankrate.com.)
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