Traffic jams are holding up much of the $ 47 billion in federal renters aid

Local governments in the US have struggled with how to distribute the money, with some complaining that their staff are being inundated by a flood of requests for help. Numerous tenants are being disqualified for not completing their applications correctly, local officials say.

President Biden has yet to say whether he will extend the eviction ban that was first implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September 2020 and expires on June 30. It has spread before.

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If the ban expires before more than $ 47 billion in aid reaches homeowners and renters, it will result in an increase in evictions that the money was intended to prevent, housing advocates say. About 11 million tenants are considered at risk of eviction due to financial difficulties, according to government figures.

While the United States Department of the Treasury oversees rental assistance, local officials are responsible for distributing the money. They have some leeway to decide how to distribute it and what tenants must do to qualify.

Last month, the Treasury recommended a series of changes to streamline payments and get out of the jam. These included easing documentation requirements for tenants, as well as allowing aid to be paid directly to tenants rather than landlords.

But research by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington tenant advocacy group, shows that many local governments have been slow to act.

The ban on rental evictions, which was first implemented by the CDC in September 2020, will expire on June 30.


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brian snyder / Reuters

Federal officials have not said how much of the aid has gone to tenants and landlords. Less than a quarter of the 388 agencies that distribute federal money allow direct payments to tenants, according to the analysis by the tenant advocacy group. Only 160 allow tenants to self-certify their eligibility for assistance when they cannot present documents, such as apartment rentals, or when they have difficulty verifying non-traditional income, such as cash wages or Social Security payments.

Some local programs report being overwhelmed with applications that they must manually examine and approve. New York state, for example, did not open applications for its $ 2.7 billion program until June 1.

Other local programs are reluctant to relax too many requirements and run the risk of fraud.

“Be quick and make sure all the I’s are dotted and the crossed T’s don’t usually work well together,” said Cynthia Lee Sheng, president of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, near New Orleans, who is working to distribute $ 12.8 millions to struggling tenants. The parish has paid less than $ 300,000, Ms. Lee Sheng said, and has hired a group of third parties to help manage its backlog of 3,300 applications.

Disputes with building owners can lead to delays. Landlords initially objected to Jefferson Parish’s requirement not to evict any tenants for future late rent payments for at least 90 days after receiving the assistance. The parish and owners negotiated that requirement for up to 45 days, Lee Sheng said.

Tenants also do not complete applications. Louisiana, which runs a $ 161 million relief fund that benefits 57 parishes across the state, said this month that just over 3,000 of the 16,500 tenants who started the application process have completed it.

A survey of 220 assistance programs conducted last year by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that incomplete applications were the most common barrier to distributing aid. “Programs that required the most documents were more likely to have this problem of incomplete applications,” said Andrew Aurand, vice president of research for the advocacy group.

In other cases, tenants are inadvertently disqualified for the way they answer screening questions, said Brad Gair, senior managing director at Witt O’Brien’s, a consulting firm that works with local aid programs.

Texas, which has distributed about $ 250 million from its $ 1.3 billion program, asks applicants if they are at risk of homelessness due to their rental debts, a criterion of the Treasury Department’s rules for funding. .

Hundreds of thousands of tenants may not pay their May rent as the coronavirus crisis enters its third month in the US For smaller homeowners, that means facing their own financial crisis. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports. Photo: Fadhila Hussein (Video from 4/30/20)

Many have been confused and answer no, disqualifying them from the help. But state administrators say that simply having past due debt or an eviction notice can demonstrate a risk of homelessness. Administrators are texting applicants asking them to reconsider their response, Gair said.

Write to Will Parker at [email protected]

Corrections and amplifications
The consulting firm Witt O’Brien’s was misspelled as Witte O’Brien in an earlier version of this article. (Corrected on June 7)

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