To prevent widespread evictions and to ensure that rental housing providers do not financially go under—especially small mom-and-pop landlords— because tenants are not able to pay rent, the federal government provided $46.55 billion in emergency rental assistance (ERA) to eligible renter households1 through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 ($25 billion) and American Rescue Plan Act ($21.55 billion).2 This blog presents statistics on the disbursement of the $25 billion ERA 1 program, the number of renter households assisted, and some best practices implemented by states and local governments to accelerate disbursement as of June 30, 2021.3
On average, renters seeking assistance have received $4,753 for rent, rental arrears, or utilities equivalent to 4.3 months of rent. Local governments are disbursing twice as quickly, with a disbursement rate of 20%, compared to state governments with a disbursement rate of 10%. Nationally, $3.01 billion, or 12.7% of the $23.785 billion allocated to the state and local governments have been paid out as June 30, 2021. However, some states/local governments have been more successful in reaching out to distressed renters by partnering with grassroots organizations and businesses, using data from other programs in place to reduce reporting requirements, and using data analytics to predict communities where renters are distressed and to then target efforts in those areas.
With 6.5 million renter households still not caught up on rent, getting this rental assistance out is crucial to prevent evictions and to repay landlords for the missed rent so they remain financially viable and can continue to provide long-term rental housing. Of the 6.5 million renter households not caught up on rent, 58.5% live in 1-to-4-unit properties, 72% of which are run by mom-and-pop landlords.4 Landlords have had to bear the financial burden of helping tenants, with estimates ranging from $21.3 billion to $57.5 billion.5
Average rental assistance of $4,753 equivalent to 4.3 months of rent
During January 1–June 30, 2021, $3,010,261,297 of the $23.785 billion ERA 1 allocation has been disbursed by the state and local governments. A total of 633,324 renter households have been assisted. Nationally, renters who have sought assistance received $4,753.
The map below shows the average rental assistance paid out by state. Nineteen states paid over $5,000. The highest average rental assistance paid out were in the states of Rhode Island ($8,858), Illinois ($8,549), Hawaii ($7,925), Connecticut ($7,432), and West Virginia ($6,508).
The map below shows the equivalent months of rent paid out. I estimated the equivalent months for each state by dividing the average rental assistance to the gross median rent in 2019. Nationally, the rental assistance paid out of $4,753 was equivalent to 4.3 months of rent. In 48 states, the assistance was equivalent to over 3 months. The highest months of rental assistance paid out were in the states of West Virginia (9 months), Rhode Island (8.5 months), Illinois (8.4 months), Michigan (7.3 months), Montana (7 months)and Kentucky (6.6 months).
Local government grantees have disbursed 20% of rental allocation, state governments paid out 10%
As of June 30, 2021, the interim report of the US Department of the Treasury reported that $23.785 billion has been allocated to state and local governments, split into $17.7 billion allocated to state governments and $6.09 billion allocated to local governments. Only state governments were allocated ERA 1 funds in the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming (and the District of Columbia).6
Disbursement has been generally slow, especially at the state government level. Between January 1 and June 30, 2021, only $3.01 billion of the $23.785 billion ERA 1 allocation has been disbursed, a disbursement rate of 12.7%. Of the allocation to state governments, only 10% has been disbursed. Local governments are disbursing at twice that pace, with 20% of the allocation to state governments disbursed. Disbursement rates are faster at the local government level presumably because local governments have ongoing programs and partnerships that they can leverage to target and reach out to renter households and landlords.
In terms of the combined disbursement to total allocation by the state governments and local governments, Virginia has the highest disbursement rate (41.3%), followed by the states of Texas (33.9%), the District of Columbia (27.5%); Massachusetts (27%), Alaska (24.8%), Illinois (21.3%), Kentucky (17.8%), Maine (17.5%), Nevada (17.5%), Hawaii (16.9%), and Utah (16.2%).
At the state government level, the highest disbursement rates were in Virginia (42.6%), Texas (34.1%), the District of Columbia (27.5%), Massachusetts (27%), Alaska (20%), New Jersey (19.8%), Maine (17.5%), and Illinois (16.9%).
Looking only at local government disbursements (cities and counties), the local governments of Kentucky outpace all state governments in disbursing the ERA 1 allocation, with 85.6% of the allocation disbursed, outpacing the state government disbursement of 9.5%. Next are the local governments of Iowa that have disbursed 62% of the ERA 1 allocation.
In 22 states, more than half of the renter households assisted received the assistance from the local government allocation. In New York, all renter households received the rental assistance from the local government allocation. In Florida and in South Carolina, 99% of renter households who received payment received assistance from the local government allocation.
Only 10% of renter households not caught up on rent have received rental assistance, with renter households in 22 states receiving the bulk of help from local governments
As of June 30, 2021, the ERA 1 program has provided rental assistance to 633,324 unique households, or 9.7% of the 6.5 million households not caught up on rent.7 At the state level, the state with highest percentage of renter households not caught up on rent who have been assisted by ERA 1 is Alaska (87%), followed by the District of Columbia (56.7%), Vermont (45.4%), Maine (40.7%), and Idaho (39.1%).
Best practices on how state and local governments are reaching out to renters and landlords
Some states/local governments have been more successful in reaching out to distressed renters, and their programs can serve as a model for other state/local governments to accelerate the distribution of rental assistance. Generally, these have involved leveraging partnerships with non-profit organizations especially those that are able to target cultural/linguistic groups, reducing documentation requirements by using data that is already available for tenants (e.g., those who live in subsidized housing or who obtain government assistance), using grassroots organizations and local businesses for outreach, simplifying the application process, and using data-driven programs to identify and prioritize assistance to vulnerable households.
The state of Virginia conducted outreach phone calls to tenants with incomplete application forms along with providing translation services to reach out to various cultural/linguistic groups.8
The city of Houston and Harris County, Texas use data analytics to inform their targeted outreach strategies. The data system maps ERA applications and payments and compare actual payments to the expected payment for a neighborhood based on the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index. The program also prioritizes applicants with an active eviction case.9
The state of Oregon is using a similar approach by using data on household size, months behind on rent, 2020 wildfire impact, and whether a household lives within a census tract with a high prevalence of low-income renters by using a nationally recognized thinktank’s rental priority index to identify renter households for the outreach and prioritization program.
The state of Massachusetts reduced the paperwork requirements for income eligibility when the tenant lives in subsidized housing.10 Massachusetts also reduced documentation requirements for applicants who can have eligibility verified through other state-based health and human services programs.11
The state of Alaska made the ERA application user-friendly by developing a mobile phone application system, breaking down the application into segments that required only 3 to 5 minutes to complete, using text-messaging to improve application completion.12
The state of Illinois reached out to grassroots networks and local businesses such as small grocery stores, laundry mats, local faith-based organizations, the Latino consulates, and ethnic media, to cast a wider outreach net.13
The state of Kentucky and other Kentucky grantees engaged in proactive outreach to area landlords, improving the landlord participation rate.
Clark County and the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and Henderson, Nevada worked with local nonprofits to access a common data system and to hire temporary staff to help with application processing.
The state of Maine provides the application program and materials in eight languages. The Maine has also built partnerships with “cultural brokers” to reach local immigrant populations, such as Somali immigrants.
The state of North Carolina works with faith-based organizations in predominately African American communities and coordinates with school systems serving high-need areas to help identify families who may be in crisis and in need of ERA program support.
Richland County, South Carolina uses the county’s 13 libraries that serve as convenient centers of support to renters.
The state of Ohio implements their ERA program through 47 nonprofits across the state that offer a range of services.
1 The ERA 1 program has a 3-part eligibility test based on income level, income loss or other financial hardship, and risk of homelessness or housing instability. Renter households must have an income at or below 80% of local area median income to be eligible. Financial hardship can be evidenced by receipt of unemployment benefits or a written attestation of other pandemic-related financial hardship (income loss or increased expenses). Risk of homelessness or housing instability can be evidenced by past due rent or utility notices (including eviction notices), unsafe living conditions, or other evidence as established by the grantee.
2 Congress created a $25 billion Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Division N of P.L. 116-260). A second round of ERA funding—$21.55 billion—was included in Section 3201 of the American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117-2). See Congressional Research Service, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46688#:~:text=In%20response%20to%20concerns%20about,116%2D260).
3 Sources of data are used in the analysis are the US Census Household Pulse Survey during June 25-July 3, 2021 (Week 33), the US Department of the Treasury interim report on ERA 1 for the period January 1-June 30, 2021, and the 2019 American Community Survey.
4 Author’s estimate based on the June 25-July 3 US Census Household Pulse Survey and the number of renter households paying rent from the 2019 American Community Survey. The fraction of rental properties run day-to-day by individual owners is estimated from the 2018 Rental Housing Finance Survey.
5 National Equity Atlas estimates $21.3 billion in arrears as of July 5; the Research Institute for Housing America estimates $41.7 billion from April 2020-June 2021; Urban Institute (Zandi/Parrott) estimates $57.5 billion.
6 The ERA 1 allocation is allocated to state governments but the though state governments may transfer any funds received to local governments so long as funds are used for eligible purposes. Local governments (counties or cities) serving a population of at least 200,000 (as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2019) may also receive assistance directly from Treasury, but any payments made directly to localities reduce the allocation made to the state government.
7 I estimate the renter households not caught up on rent based on the US Census Household Pulse Survey during the week of June 25-July 3 (I exclude respondents who did not answer or who were not directed to the question (codes 88 and 99) and I apply the percent share to the number of renter households with rent based on the 2019 American Community Survey.
8 US Department of the Treasury, Making the Application Process Simple and User-Friendly, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/coronavirus/assistance-for-state-local-and-tribal-governments/emergency-rental-assistance-program