Source: Lauren Lowery, Natasha Leonard, National League of Cities
On August 26, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium, ruling that the CDC had exceeded its authority. With this ruling, thousands of renters are now at risk for evictions and at risk of losing their housing. The Supreme Court also ruled that if a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it.
What does this mean for cities?
In this moment, cities should take a whole government and community approach to prevent evictions, both formal and informal, that will occur in the coming days.
Cities should be working with both their resident-facing departments and community partners to augment their communication, outreach, and engagement strategies to encourage — if not mandate — renters and landlords to apply to local or state emergency rental assistance programs before an eviction can occur. Cities should also look to their court systems to divert evictions when possible and require that landlords accept payments.
Along with augmenting communication, outreach and engagement strategies, cities should be accelerating the spending of emergency rental assistance. Recommendations for the effective and efficient distribution of emergency rental assistance include eliminating barriers for tenants and landlords; working with trusted community partners to distribute funds or expand outreach; and bringing on additional staff or partners to help renters and landlords navigate the application process, as well as to optimize the processing of applications and the distribution of funds for rental arrears and prospective payments more quickly.
With billions of dollars in aid available and the protection of the federal moratorium gone, getting those funds into the hands of landlords who have long awaited payment, and tenants who face the threat of eviction, must be a top priority.
As recently as August 25, the U.S. Treasury released seven additional policies to encourage state and local government to accelerate the spending of emergency rental assistance, in addition to the guidance that was released on June 24 and May 7. The seven additional policies included:
- Self-attestation can be used in documenting each aspect of a household’s eligibility for ERA, including with respect to: a) financial hardship, b) the risk of homelessness or housing instability, and c) income.
The Treasury has further clarified and encourage local and state grantees to simplify the application process with the use of self-attestation when other forms of documents are not immediately available.
For cities hesitant to distribute funds in cases of limited formal documentation in fear of reporting requirements and federal clawbacks, this is a significant signal of support for minimizing administrative barriers in favor of rapid disbursement of funds.
- During the public health emergency, state and local ERA programs may rely on self-attestation alone to document household income eligibility when documentation is not available.
In light of the public health emergency, the Treasury has made self-attestation of income acceptable for assistance eligibility when applicants are not able to provide other forms of documentation for their income. With self-attestation of income clearly allowable, cites are empowered to provide rapid assistance to households that may have more informal employment or lease arrangements, and that may be at high-risk of eviction.
- State and local grantees may advance assistance to landlords and utility providers based on estimated eligible arears.
To accelerate the distribution of emergency rental assistance, the Treasury has laid out additional guidelines on the use of bulk payments to large landlords and utility providers, with the expectation that an applicant’s application and documentation requirements are fully satisfied.
- State and local grantees may enter into partnership with nonprofits to deliver advance assistance to households at risk of eviction while their applications are still being processed.
Treasury establishes guidelines for state and local grantees to engage with nonprofit organizations able and willing to take on the financial risk of advancing assistance prior to an application being fully processed to speed aid to at-risk households.
- Grantees may make additional rent payments to landlords that take on tenants facing major barriers to securing a lease, including those who have been evicted or experienced homelessness in the past year.
Local and state grantees may make an additional payment required as a condition for entering into a lease with a “hard-to-house” household that would not otherwise qualify under a pre-existing and lawful screening or occupancy policy.
- Past arrears at previous addresses may be covered.
Treasury’s guidance makes clear that state and local grantees may, at an eligible tenant’s request, provide assistance to cover remaining rental or utility arrears at a previous address in an effort to remove barriers that household may face in acquiring new housing. This offers a significant and lasting opportunity for overcoming the long-term effects of eviction that disproportionately impact communities of color.
- A tenant’s costs associated with obtaining a hearing or appealing an order of eviction may be covered with ERA funds as an eligible “other expense.”
New guidance makes clear that “rent bonds” are an eligible ERA expense. Often referred to as rent bonds, many states and localities require tenant payments of rent to a court on behalf of the landlord as a condition for a tenant to have the opportunity to defend themselves in court before being evicted.
Along with these seven additional policies provided by the U.S. Treasury, the administration makes clear that local and state programs that are reluctant or incapable of accelerating the spending of emergency rental assistance are at risk of having their funding be reallocated to effective ERA programs in high-need areas.
To date, local and state programs have only expended $5.1 billion of the first round of Emergency Rental Assistance.
Cities that are not ERA grantees or do not operate their own emergency rental assistance programs can still do a lot to prevent evictions. ARPA’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds can be spent to support efforts to identify and locate residents at risk of evictions and help such residents navigate the enrollment process for state or county ERA programs.
Looking forward, this housing crisis needs a coordinated, all hands-on deck approach from city, county and state governments as well as from community partners. Along with the distribution of emergency rental assistance, city, county and state governments should be investing in eviction diversion programs; exploring right to counsel or providing free legal assistance; scaling-up mediation, supportive services and self-help programs; and forming and sustaining long-term relationships with local courts, sheriff’s offices and landlords.
In the face of being without the CDC moratorium offering federal protection for tenants, now is the time to lean on all of these potential pathways for keeping families housed and getting financial relief into the hands of both landlords and tenants.
Co-Authored by NLC Federal Advocacy Intern Rush Patel.