New Treasury Guidelines Developed to Accelerate Rental Assistance

The US Department of Treasury has announced new guidance on the Emergency Rental Assistance program – designed to accelerate deployment of these needed funds, and responding to calls from local program directors.

From White House Senior Adviser and “American Rescue Coordinator” Gene Sperling via social media:

Mr. Sperling and senior officials from the US Department of Treasury joined a remote call earlier this month with multiple Maryland jurisdictions’ housing program directors, to discuss holdups in funding disbursement. The application/verification played a central role in that conversation, with various jurisdictions seeking to square the desire to get funds distributed quickly against the potentially cumbersome and contradictory verification requirements.

New guidance documents can be found online at the US Department of Treasury website, and certain contents of that release are included below for convenience:

One of the biggest challenges many state and local government programs continue to face in getting assistance to renters and landlords is application processing delays. According to public dashboards, hundreds of thousands of applications are in the pipeline beyond those that have already been paid. Today, based on feedback collected through site-visits and meetings with rental assistance administrators, tenant advocates, landlords and other stakeholders, Treasury is providing further policy clarity and recommendations meant to accelerate assistance to those in the pipeline in addition to those who have yet to apply, including clarifying that:

      1. 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 use of self-attestation for documenting household eligibility clearly speeds up the processing of applications for rental assistance.  Treasury is providing even greater clarity and specificity regarding the use of self-attestation and is encouraging grantees to simplify application processes to use self-attestation when other forms of documentation are not immediately available.
      2. 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. During the public health emergency, in order to rapidly provide assistance, Treasury is clarifying that grantees may rely solely on a self-attestation of income when applicants are unable to provide other documentation of their income.
      3. State and local grantees may advance assistance to landlords and utility providers based on estimated eligible arrears. To speed assistance, Treasury is establishing guidelines for providing a portion of estimated bulk payments to landlords and utility providers in anticipation of the full satisfaction of application and documentation requirements. These changes balance the need to assist households served by larger landlords and utilities with the need to protect taxpayers.
      4. 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. Where an expedited payment could reasonably be viewed as necessary to prevent an eviction that may occur under a grantee’s standard application process, Treasury is establishing guidelines for state and local programs to engage with non-profit 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.
      5. 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. State and local ERA programs 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.
      6. Past arrears at previous addresses may be covered. To remove barriers a household may face in accessing new housing if they have outstanding debt in collection, 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.
      7. 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.”  Many states and localities require tenant payments of rent to a court on behalf of the landlord (often referred to as “rent bonds”) as a condition for a tenant to have the opportunity to defend herself in court before being evicted. New guidance makes clear that rent bonds are an eligible ERA expense.

Treasury recognizes that early on, many state and local governments faced a difficult task in building the assistance infrastructure needed to get ERA funds quickly to eligible households from scratch. However, July data shows many have done this successfully and several communities have reported fully spending their ERA 1 resources, demonstrating that there are effective pathways to getting relief quickly to those who need it.

 

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties
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