As children, we’re taught that our basic needs are food, water, air, and shelter. During the quarantine periods of 2020, we were reminded how important having proper shelter was.
In the last two years, the pandemic has brought about a significant surge in rent and home prices. Many who were comfortable in their homes may now find their biggest bill to be larger than their budgets.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, four out of ten low-income families or individuals use over 50% of their income to pay rent.
The median rent in America has raised fifteen percent since 2001 hovering at just over $1,100, but the minimum wage has not matched the rise in the cost of living leaving many people unable to afford paying rent and bills without struggling.
Financial situations may change in a heartbeat. Tough times can come when we least expect it, and all of a sudden we may struggle to pay for our basic bills like rent.
Again, having a roof over your head is a necessity. So what can we do when we can no longer affordably pay our rent?
Thankfully, there are government programs that can help you pay your rent or find affordable housing for you and your family.
Rental assistance covers a variety of situations, and not many people are aware that rental assistance is available. Below we’ll go over 12 rent assistance programs and facts to help pay your rent.
1. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)
As the economy recovers from the negative effects of the pandemic, millions of Americans are still months to many months behind in rent. Evictions and the loss of shelter are constantly looming over their heads.
As mentioned earlier, COVID-19 has worsened America’s housing crisis that was established even before the pandemic. To assist Americans struggling to pay rent, the government created the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
Two programs make up the ERA:
- ERAP1: funding of up to $25 billion established under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
- ERAP2: funding of up to $21.55 billion established under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
The funding for these two programs is given directly to the U.S. states, territories, governments, and in some cases, Indian tribes. Assistance is given to eligible households through new or existing rental assistance programs.
2. What Are Federal Rental Assistance Programs?
There are three main Federal Rental Assistance programs:
- Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program
- Public Housing Program
- Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
A large portion of rental assistance in the United States helps families with children but that does not mean you need to have children to qualify.
Qualifications are based upon household income in comparison to the average income for a standard household in the area you live in. The number of people in your family is taken into consideration as well.
You may apply to one of the three different programs through the Federal Government Benefits website. Each state has its own section and you can apply online.
Depending on your situation you may be ineligible for one program but eligible for financial rental assistance in another program due to the varying income requirements.
3. How Does Rent Assistance Work?
Federal Rental Assistance Programs offer a few different options for individuals and families who need help paying rent or finding affordable housing. These programs are divided to assist as many people based on their varying situations and needs.
Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program
The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (Housing Choice Voucher program) is a voucher that can be used to help pay for current rent or to find a new place to live.
Normally, to be accepted into the Housing Choice Voucher program, you must live under the poverty line in terms of income, or make less than 30% of the median income. But, you may still be accepted if you make a little more.
As long as you are below the average median income for a family of your size or for individuals you are eligible for the program.
Once a voucher is received, you have two months or 60 days to find appropriate housing if you are looking for somewhere to live. Your current rental or future rental has to meet the federal housing quality standards for the voucher to be allowed for use to pay rent.
You are responsible for up to 30% of the rent while the voucher covers the rest up to the limit set by the housing agency. Depending on your income and area, this limit may vary.
Public Housing Program
Vouchers can also be used to rent properties that the Public Housing Program owns and maintains.
These vouchers are used to pay the majority of rent and utilities in these houses. The government maintains the property and rental units in the same way any other landlord assumes responsibility for property and upkeep.
Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance is a program that helps families and individuals find affordable housing for the long run. If your financial situation does not have an end date, you may want to look into this rental assistance program until you get back on your feet or can afford more in rent.
This program uses contracts with companies that own apartments and offer housing in that specific building. In comparison, tenant-based programs allow renters to choose private rental spaces as long as the federal requirements are met.
4. What is Government Rent Assistance?
Government rent assistance is typically limited to the programs mentioned above. They are long-term programs meant to help low-income individuals or families find good affordable housing.
For people who hit a financial snag rent assistance can act as a cushion until they’re able to afford rent on their own.
These programs can be a short-term solution or can provide a year or two of financial comfort for struggling families. None of this money will need to be paid back nor does it affect credit negatively.
5. What About Emergency Rent Assistance?
Depending on where you live, ERAP can help pay back any rent due for the last twelve months, cover utilities, or cover future rental payments if income is still being affected by the pandemic.
Eligibility depends on a few different factors compared to traditional Federal Government Programs. Unemployment due to the pandemic is a big factor that many Americans have been affected by.
A large portion of Americans applying for the ERAP lost wages, their jobs, or have been financially impacted due to COVID-19.
Individuals or families that are at risk of becoming homeless because of past due rent or utilities are also eligible. Income is taken into consideration, and to apply, your household income must be below 80% of the median income of the area you rent in.
Although the eviction ban mostly ended in September of 2021, the ERAP is still available and plenty of funds are ready to be distributed.
If you’re worried about your financial situation or are still trying to find work due to the pandemic you can look up ERAP in your area and apply online. Depending on where you live, the ERAP can help with utilities and other housing bills such as internet or gas, but it is up to local governments to decide how to distribute the funds to eligible individuals and families.
6. Can You Get Rent Assistance from the Housing Choice Voucher Program?
Technically speaking, yes, you can get rental assistance if you are accepted to the housing choice voucher program.
However, keep in mind that you will still be responsible for 30% of your income going towards rent and utilities. For some individuals or families, this can still be a financial strain.
Take time to work out a budget and see exactly what you will be paying towards rent and utilities if you choose to stay where you currently live. If you are comfortable paying up to 30% of your income, then using the rental assistance aspect of the Housing Choice Voucher program might be the best decision.
If your current residence is a financial burden even at the lowered cost, then you may want to look into a new place that is approved by the Housing Choice Voucher program. If your current rent is above the standard median rent for the area, you will be responsible for the extra amount as well.
7. How Much Do I Get for Rental Assistance?
Rental assistance varies depending on your income and the program you decide to use.
The Housing Choice Voucher program covers the remainder of your rent after 30% of your income is deducted to pay rent and utilities. Other factors like median rent in your area, median income, and any current rental agreements decipher how much you ultimately get in rental assistance. In most cases, rental assistance does cover utilities as well.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) determines what the average rent price is in your area. As long as your rent falls within the median range, 30% of your income will be an incredibly low amount to pay in comparison to standard rent.
If you choose to use the project-based housing program you can have extremely low rent or the majority of your rent covered if your income is at or below your state’s federal poverty line.
Many project-based rental properties are already incredibly low in terms of rental price. If you are struggling financially to the point of falling below the federal poverty line, there is a high chance most if not all of your rent will be covered.
However, if your income does bounce back you may have to begin to contribute more to your rent at some point.
8. Am I Eligible for Rent Assistance?
As of 2022, the federal poverty guidelines for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia are:
|Number of people in household||Poverty guideline|
For households with more than 8 persons, add $4,720 for each additional person.
You do not have to make the above amount to qualify, but an individual under the federal poverty line is considered a high priority in regards to being accepted and given rental or housing assistance.
In regards to ERAP, if you meet any of the qualifications provided by the federal government such as unemployment due to COVID-19 or lost income, then you can apply for emergency rent assistance through your local government.
If your income has become low enough and you aren’t sure when you will recover after you use up the ERAP, you can apply for federal government programs as a supplement if needed.
You may be able to stay in your current place of residence, but if having a lower rent for the long term is going to be more helpful during this financial crisis, then looking into housing vouchers might be a better choice for you.
9. What Is the Rent Assistance Threshold?
To qualify for all rental assistance including ERAP, the household income must be lower than 80% of the median income. The lower the income, the more rent will be covered because of the way vouchers work.
When you put 30% of your income toward your rent and utilities, then the lower your income the less you will be responsible for. The function of these programs is created specifically to help families on the severe side of low income or under the poverty line afford rent and bills without experiencing extreme financial strain.
Disability is not considered income, so if someone in your family receives disability then don’t worry about including it in your calculations to figure out your yearly income.
10. Where Can I Apply for Rental Assistance?
You can apply for rental assistance directly on the United States Benefits website. The website has all of the states separated and alphabetized. Just pick your state and the website will pop up as well as a phone number if you would like to do the application over the phone.
If you want to go in person to talk about your options and ask questions regarding your application, then you can find your local HUD. You may be able to make an appointment if that suits your schedule better.
11. How to Apply for Rental Assistance?
Applications can be done online, sent through the mail, or be completed in person.
You will need photo identification of everyone who lives in your household over the age of eighteen and proof of citizenship. This can be in the form of birth certificates, naturalization papers, visas, or social security cards.
Income proof is going to be the biggest necessity to determine whether your household is below the threshold. If your home does not have any source of income, then you can provide your prior year’s W2 or 1099.
You will need a copy of your lease which can be given directly by you or can be given to the professional handling your application by your landlord. Copies of utility bills may be needed as well. Any assets that belong to a member of the household over eighteen will be documented.
All of these documents can be uploaded online, mailed in, or given in person.
12. How Long Does It Take to Get Rental Assistance?
Due to the pandemic, if you’re applying for ERAP it may take a few weeks to get help. Ask the professional you’re working with if there is anything you can do to stop an eviction while you wait for your financial aid.
In regards to federal programs, depending on where you live, you may be placed on a waitlist for vouchers or Section 8. If you are on the lower end of the income threshold you will be moved up and considered a priority.
Notes About Federal Assistance:
Having a low income doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in financial stress forever. Taking advantage of these programs to ensure your rent is paid or lowered can be the step up you or your family needs to find financial relief.
Government programs like these are meant to be used in times of emergency or for families and individuals that are having a hard time making enough money to survive.
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Rent isn’t the only major bill you pay every month. Being able to communicate wirelessly is a necessity, especially since the pandemic started. Without cell phone services, you can’t stay in touch with friends, family, job opportunities, work, or doctors.
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- The Lifeline Assistance Program
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