Treasury Issues FAQs on Emergency Rental Assistance

Published by Mark Shelburne on Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 12:00am

The omnibus spending and COVID-19 relief bills enacted on Dec. 27 included $25 billion in emergency rental assistance (ERA). The funds are part of the federal response to effects of the pandemic, along with the prohibition against evictions for nonpayment.

In its last days, the previous administration issued ERA guidance in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs). Several statements in the answers prompted concern from various organizations. In response to advocacy, on Feb. 22 the U.S. Department of Treasury issued revised FAQs with many substantial changes.

This post summarizes the new FAQs, but is not a substitute for reading them.

Documenting Eligibility

A key aspect of ERA is determining whether the tenant household is eligible. Providing the necessary proof can be a challenge in any context, but is especially difficult with a new program where everyone involved has to move quickly.

As a general matter the FAQs very helpfully allow documentation to be “photocopies or digital photographs of documents, e-mails, or attestations from employers, landlords, caseworkers, or others with knowledge of the household’s circumstances.”

With regard to income eligibility, normally the household must provide “paystubs, W-2s or other wage statements, tax filings, bank statements demonstrating regular income, or an attestation from an employer.” However, ERA agencies may grant exceptions to accommodate disabilities, for extenuating circumstances related to the pandemic, or a lack of technological access.

Categorical Eligibility

If the household income has been verified pursuant to another assistance program to be at or below 80% of the area median income (AMI), the ERA agency may rely on a letter from that government.

Lease Availability

If the tenant is unable to provide a lease, alternative may include evidence of paying utilities, a landlord attestation or other reasonable documentation. The amount of rent can be determined by bank statements, check stubs, landlord attestation, or other reasonable documentation.

Other Housing Expenses

In addition to rent, utilities, and arrears of both, ERA agencies may use funds for other housing expenses incurred due to the pandemic. The FAQs define what these expenses may include:

  • relocation and rental fees (if displaced);
  • reasonable accrued late fees (if incurred due to COVID-19); and
  • internet service provided to the apartment

Landlord Outreach

Funding may go directly to tenants if the landlord or utility provider does not reply to a request for participation either within 14 calendar days or after at least three phone calls or emails.

Tenant Portion

Households may receive ERA assistance for the tenant portion of a monthly federal subsidy, as verified by tenant attestation.

Tribes

Members may receive assistance from their tribes even if living outside of the tribal lands, and tribes may assist non-members living within their jurisdiction.

Subrecipients and Contracts

ERA agencies may make subawards to non-profit organizations and local governments to administer funds on their behalf. Agencies may also enter into contracts to implement the program.

Housing Stability Services

The law allows agencies to use up to 10% of their funds for housing stability services. The FAQs define these as including:

  • housing counseling,
  • fair housing counseling,
  • case management related to housing stability,
  • housing related services for survivors of domestic abuse or human trafficking,
  • attorney’s fees related to eviction proceedings, and
  • specialized services for individuals with disabilities or seniors that supports their ability to access or maintain housing.

Interest Payments

ERA agencies are not required to remit to Treasury interest earned on the funds.

Conclusion

Please contact Novogradac for assistance with any aspect of ERA, from program administration to applying for funding.

More funding may available soon. Congress is on track to approve another $20 billion in additional emergency rental assistance in the pending COVID-19 relief reconciliation bill. Congress is expected to pass the bill before March 14, when the unemployment assistance authorized in the Dec. 2020 COVID-19 relief law expires.