What to Do If You Are Struggling to Pay Rent

(NationalUSNews.com) – There’s no real definition for housing insecurity, but over 20 million households in the US deal with some sort of instability in their housing situation. The words “insecurity” or “instability” are interchangeable and mean any number of things—trouble paying rent, staying with friends or family, overcrowding, or spending the majority of household income on housing.

Rental Assistance is Available

What many people who are struggling to pay their rent don’t know is that there is help available. The federal government has several Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) programs in place to help cover rent and utilities in emergency situations. This assistance has been available for years, but the recent Covid pandemic meant an increase in housing insecurity, and Congress appropriated almost $50 billions in funding for ERA programs.

Even though the pandemic has subsided, there are still billions available for qualifying households. The US Treasury sends funds directly to the states, local governments, US territories, and Native American tribes.

What can I do with housing assistance money?

Households can use ERA money to pay most housing costs—rent, utilities, and heating and cooling. You can also pay your bill for trash collection. One thing to remember is that any costs your landlord includes in the rent—utilities or the power bill—aren’t eligible for payment since they’re already covered. Internet is another monthly cost that ERA funds will cover, even though this service is not considered a utility.

You can also use ERA money for moving expenses and other relocation-related costs:

  • Application fees
  • Screening fees
  • Security deposits

Do I have to be behind on my rent to qualify?

If you believe you’re headed towards housing instability, you can go ahead and apply for assistance to cover future expenses. If you’re already behind, that back rent must be the first thing that’s paid.

How to Determine Your Eligibility

You must have some sort of rental agreement or lease in place to qualify for ERA money. An oral agreement is acceptable if your landlord will provide a statement, or you can show you’ve paid the utility bills. The agency you’re working with will help you get the proof you need to qualify. You also must meet these requirements to be eligible.

At least one member of your household has or will have:

  • Qualifies, or will qualify, for unemployment
  • Loss of income
  • Large amounts of debt
  •  Other financial hardship

If your household income is below a certain amount, based on where you live, you may be eligible for ERA help.

If a member of you your household is at risk of homelessness or is having difficulty finding a place to live, you also may qualify.

That’s confusing. What’s the definition of a household?

The US Census Bureau defines a household as any individuals sharing living quarters. They may be related, unrelated (lodgers, foster children, wards), roommates, or domestic partners. The “householder” is the person whose name is on the lease and is responsible for paying the bills.

Will I Receive Funds Directly?

It all depends on the rules of your local program. Some agencies will contact your landlord and utility providers for you and ask  if they’ll accept ERA money to pay your overdue rent. They have five to seven days to respond by phone, text, or email. If they don’t, then the agency will send the money directly to you so you can pay the bills.

Other organizations put the money into your bank account so you can pay the landlord and utilities yourself.

How Do I Find ERA Agencies in My Area?

If you’re not sure where to find local housing assistance programs, call 211. That’s a free, nationwide service that connects households to local resources. If you’re worried about eviction, some states still have limitations in place. You can go to EvictionLab.org to find out about the latest eviction rules in your area.

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