States begin receiving money to help those struggling to pay rent, but do you qualify?

Posted at 4:13 PM, Jan 05, 2021

Most states are starting to receive some of the $25 billion that were set aside to help Americans pay their rent. This is money that could help an estimated 40 million Americans who owe back rent or are struggling to pay next month’s rent. However, the new rental assistance comes with very specific qualifications that renters in need should know.

“They have to be at 80 percent or below area median income, and area localities are required to have a preference to people who are 50 percent or below area median income,” said Diane Yentel with the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).

In addition to income qualifications, renters also have to prove the risk of becoming homeless without assistance and have to actively search for a rental assistance program in their area. The number of programs still open could vary widely depending on your state.

“Early on in the pandemic, there were some funds made available to states and localities to create emergency rental assistance programs,” explained Yentel. "So, we have been tracking those programs, and at last count, there were 520 of them across the country. About 30 percent of those programs have already shut down because the resources have been depleted.”

Renters in states and localities where there are existing rental assistance programs still in place will have access to the relief first. While those in parts of the country where programs have closed or never existed will have to wait until a new program is created. According to the NLIHC tracking system, those are renters in parts of California, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia, and Tennessee.

To track down what rental assistance programs are available in your area now, NLIHC has created a rental assistance page on their website. NLIHC lists all the programs available by state and plans to update the list as new programs are developed, especially in areas that have none currently.

For those without access to a computer, Yentel explained they can simply dial 211 and get information on programs in their area over the phone.

“It’s going to take a little bit of searching to find these resources; it doesn’t come directly to renters,” said Yentel.

It’s unclear how quickly the $25 billion will run out, but organizations like Yentel are almost sure it is not enough. They estimate that more like $100 billion could be what is needed to get all struggling renters through this pandemic.