Six months after Congress approved billions in emergency rental assistance, just a fraction of the aid has reached tenants across the country – even with millions at risk of homelessness as an eviction ban expires Saturday.
The Treasury Department announced last week that state and local officials doled out just $3 billion in aid over the course of the first half of the year, or roughly 6.6% of the $45 billion program intended to keep millions of renters in their homes. In total, it has provided relief to a fraction of the 1.2 million households that have reported being "very likely to face eviction in the next two months," the department said in a news release.
"State and local governments must do more to accelerate aid to struggling renters and expand programs to meet the scale of assistance needed," the Treasury said, adding: "While some state and local programs are increasingly reaching households in need, others lag far behind, and many programs have just launched in recent weeks. Money is available in every state to help renters at risk of eviction – and the urgency has never been greater."
The nationwide ban on evictions, first implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, lapses on July 31. Without the freeze in place, more than 15 million people living in the U.S. who are behind on their rental payments could face eviction, according to a new study published Wednesday by the Aspen Institute and COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.
"These renters may face eviction, civil lawsuits for unpaid rent, and aggressive debt collection — crises that will continue to cause harm years into the future," the study said.
Americans owe roughly $21 billion in unpaid rent – a compounding problem as landlords who are no longer collecting rent are crushed by the moratorium, unable to cover taxes, maintenance expenses and other bills – but the aid has been slow to reach them.
There are several reasons for the delay in delivering the money, according to the report published by the Aspen Institute and COVID-19 Defense Projection, including high documentation burdens, long payment timelines and insufficient infrastructure for rental assistance support.
Due to state and country constraints, a long and complicated application and required documents from tenants and landlords, it often took weeks, or sometimes months, for rental assistance applications to process – and even longer for the money to arrive.
"Even when tenants facing eviction successfully make it through the application process, payments can take weeks or months—too slow to guarantee that funds will be available before a court orders an eviction," the report said.
How much money tenants and landlords receive hinges on several factors, including income and location. In some cases, individuals may get enough money to cover rent from March 2020. The problem, however, is that many states and cities did not have the necessary equipment in place to distribute the money and as a result, have struggled to dispense it.
At the current pace, it would take providers about 21 months in order to get the necessary funds to renters who think they may be evicted, according to a recent analysis conducted by The Urban Institute.
"Landlords and tenants have run out of time," the report said. "With the eviction moratorium expiring on July 31st, renters who are unable to rapidly access available federal funding may be removed from their homes in a matter of weeks."