Federal aid to rent moves slowly, leaving many at risk

WASHINGTON – Four months after Congress approved tens of billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance, only a small portion has reached landlords and tenants, and filing applications in many places is also impossible.

The program requires hundreds of state and local governments to formulate and advance their plans, and some have been slow to begin. But this pace is mostly hampered by the sheer complexity of the task: starting a huge pop-up program that reaches millions of tenants, verifies their debts and wins over landlords whose interests are not always the same as their tenants Occur. ‘

The money at stake is huge. Congress approved $ 25 billion in December and added more than $ 20 billion in March. The federal government now has emergency rental assistance, amounting to $ 46.5 billion, rivaling the annual budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Experts say that careful preparation can improve results; It takes time to find needy tenants and ensure payment accuracy. But with 1 to 7 renters report that they are behind on payments, The longer it takes to distribute the money, the more the landlords suffer unsustainable losses, and the tenants are at risk of expulsion.

Millions of tenants are protected from expulsion by only a tenth federal moratorium, which faces multiple court challenges, relinquishing many homes and scheduled to expire in June.

“I am very impressed with the number of people working to set up these programs, but the problem is that not much money is coming out,” said Ingrid Gould Allen, a professor at New York University. Is studying effort. “If small homeowners can’t keep their buildings, there are drift effects, and when you first go through a crisis you want to reach families so that their problems don’t get complicated.”

Unpaid rent estimate With a gap of between $ 8 billion and $ 53 billion, Congress has approved a higher level of that limit.

The situation reflects the patchwork nature of American safety nets. Food, cash, health care and other types of aid flow through different programs. Each has its own mix of federal, state, and local controls, leading to great geographic variation.

While some pandemic aid has flowed through established programs, rental help is both decentralized and new, making it particularly markedly differentiated.

Among those seeking help is 48-year-old Saundra Broughton, a logistic worker outside of Charleston, SC, who considered herself safely middle class in the fall when she rented a fitness center and an apartment with a saltwater pool took. To his shock, he was soon locked up; After her jobless benefits were delayed, she received an eviction notice.

“I’ve always worked and taken care of myself,” she said. “I’ve never been on public assistance.”

A judge gave Ms. Broughton 10 days to leave her apartment. Only last-minute calls for legal aid brought word of a federal moratorium, requiring tenants to enforce. She moved to the library to print the form with 24 hours. “But I still owe money,” he said, about $ 4,600 and counting.

If Ms. Barotan had lived in nearby Berkeley County, she could have asked for help as early as March 29. In Charleston County, a short distance away, she could apply on April 12. But being a resident of Dorchester County, they have to apply. The state, which has $ 272 million in federal money, but is not yet taking applications.

“Why are they holding the money?” he said. “I have a loan of thousands of dollars and can be withdrawn at any time. It is a very frightening feeling. “

The vast aid measures passed during the early stages of the epidemic did not include specific provisions to help tenants, although they gave cash to most households. But hundreds of state and local governments started The programs Was passed in March 2020, with discretionary funds from the CARS Act. These efforts disbursed an amount of $ 4.5 billion, which is 10 times the amount for the exercise undertaken so far for this effort.

Lesson Cited Include the need to reach out to poor tenants to let them know that help is available. Technology often brings up barriers: renters had to apply online, and many lacked computers or the Internet.

The demand for documentation also thwarted the assistance, as many people could not terminate the application without leases or proof of lost income. Some landlords refused to participate, perhaps preferring to search for new tenants.

Despite the increasing need, programs in Florida and New York funded by the CARES Act returned millions of dollars of unqualified dollars to the states. Congress passed a new program in December, About 1 in 5 reported being behind a rented house upon payment.

The national effort, the Emergency Rent Assistance Program, is run by the Treasury Department. It allocates funds to states and cities with a population of at least 200,000 who want to run their own programs. About 110 cities and 227 counties have chosen to do so.

The program offers 12-month rent and utilities to low-income tenants who are financially epidemic-disadvantaged, a priority over families with less than half the region’s average income – typically around $ 34,000 per year. Federal law does not deny aid to unspecified immigrants, although some states and counties do.

Modern aid seems to demand a mix of Jacob Rais and Bill Gates – marginalized and software helping. Progress slowed down for a month when the Biden administration approved President Donald J. Revoked and developed guidance issued under Trump The rules Less documentation required.

Other reasons for slow onset vary. Progressive state legislators in New York argued for months to protect the most needy tenants. Conservative legislators in South Carolina were less focused on the issue. But the result was largely the same: Neither the legislature passed its schedule until April, nor did the state accept applications yet.

“I just don’t know why the sense of urgency isn’t high,” said Sue Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “We are hearing nonstop from people concerned about expulsion.”

There is no complete data on how many tenants have been helped. But of the $ 17.6 billion given to state governments, 20 percent of the states are not yet taking applications, although those states have few local programs. Florida ($ 871 million), Illinois ($ 566 million) and North Carolina ($ 547 million) are among those yet to begin.

“The pace is slow,” said Greg Brown of the National Apartment Association, who insisted that landlords have mortgages, taxes and maintenance to pay.

In a recent discussion at the Brookings Institution, Erica Pothig, a housing expert at the White House Domestic Policy Council, praised “unprecedented rental assistance” and said “the federal government only has so much capacity” to take swift action To encourage.

Accepting the application is only the beginning. With $ 1.5 billion to spend, California has attracted 150,000 requests for help. But of the requested $ 355 million, only $ 20 million has been approved and $ 1 million has been paid.

Texas, with $ 1.3 billion to spend, started quickly, but there were software failures and staff shortages the company hired to run the program. a Committee found in the State House of Representatives After 45 days, the event paid off just 250 families.

In contrast, a program run jointly by Houston and Harris counties had spent about a quarter of its money and assisted about 10,000 families.

Not everyone is upset at the speed. “It’s not necessary to get money fast here, especially when we focus on making sure that money reaches the most vulnerable people,” said Diane Yentel, director of the National Come Income Housing Coalition.

Looking at the challenge, he said, “I think it’s fine.”

She points to an event in Santa Clara County, California that garnered praise for her outreach last year. Very few of those who served it spoke English or lacked formal pattas for submission. Now with $ 36 million to spend under the new program, it opted for additional planning weeks to train 50 nonprofit groups.

“Giving money is actually quite difficult,” said Jane Loving, who runs the campaign: Ghar, a housing group that leads the campaign. “All the money in the world doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get to the people who need it.”

In Charleston, SC, housing became one concern after another The 2018 study found that the region had the highest eviction rate in the country. Charleston County ran three rounds of rental relief from the CARES Act money, and the state ran two.

The second out-of-state program launched in February with $ 25 million attracted so many applications that it closed in six days. But South Carolina is still processing those requests as it decides how to distribute the new federal funds.

Antoinette Verke is among the applicants waiting for a reply. He moved from Denver to Charleston last year, prepared by cheap rent, hot weather and job offers. But the job fell through, and his landlord filed for eviction.

Ms. Verde, who has kidney and liver disease, is temporarily protected by federal eviction postponement. But it does not cover tenants whose leases are expiring, as will happen at the end of next month. His landlord said he would force him to relocate, even though the state paid $ 5,000 in unpaid rent.

Still, she said the help was important: renting a new apartment from a clean slate and relieving him of an impossible debt would make it easier. He said, “I am stressing this, where I have taken myself ill.”

Moving faster than the state, Charleston County began its $ 12 million program two weeks ago, and workers have taken computers for farmers’ markers, community centers, and a mall parking lot. Christine Durant, a deputy county administrator, said assistance was needed to stop the forecostros that could reduce the housing stock. Critics will be concerned if critics send payments to those who qualify, she said: “We will be audited multiple times”.

Latoya Green is caught where speed and accounting desire collide. A clerk who lost hours in an epidemic owes him $ 3,700 in rent and utilities and is only protected by the eviction hold until his lease expires next month.

She applied for help but did not complete the application the day the county program began. She said she is unaffected by emails requesting her lease, which she lacks, and evidence of lost income.

Still, Ms. Green does not criticize Charleston County officials. “I think they are doing their best,” she said. “A lot of people run scams.”

With time running short, she said: “I just hope and pray to God that they can help me.”

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