|This week, the U.S. Treasury Department issued updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program, adopting many of the recommendations NCSHA has been pursuing since last Spring. NCSHA, working in partnership with other organizations representing grantees at the state, county, city, and tribal government levels, has been pressing Treasury to make many of these changes to reduce administrative burdens so that grantees could accelerate the processing of ERA applications, expediting payments of rent and utilities on behalf of qualified households. The FAQ enhancements, detailed below, are summarized in this Treasury blog post.
- Allow grantees to use self-attestation to document every aspect of a household’s eligibility for ERA assistance (with respect to income, financial hardship, and risk of homelessness and housing instability) and, during the coronavirus public health emergency, allow grantees to rely on self-attestation alone to document household income eligibility when documentation is not readily available. Previous Treasury guidance only allowed for self-attestation in certain circumstances, and many grantees interpreted the guidance to mean they had to first ask for other documentation and could only allow self-attestation for income qualification after having attempted to verify income using other documentation. This led to significant time spent by grantees reaching out to individual applicants in an attempt to get various income eligibility documentation. NCSHA had urged Treasury to state affirmatively that grantees may rely on applicants’ self-attestation with respect to all eligibility requirements without first or ever seeking additional documentation.
- Facilitate the ability of grantees to make bulk payments to larger landlords or utility providers by allowing grantees to make upfront bundled payments based on reasonable estimates of arrears owed for either rent or utilities by multiple rental households. Under the new guidance, the landlord or utility provider would need to certify that it is providing the grantee with a reasonable estimate of the arrears owed, and the grantee must receive documentation of eligibility within six months of making the payment. The landlord or utility provider must also agree in writing to return to the grantee any assistance if a household is later found not to be eligible. Treasury urges grantees to limit such payments to a portion of the landlord’s or utility provider’s estimate (maybe 50 or 75 percent) to avoid the possibility of needing repayment. NCSHA had been encouraging Treasury to make this change so that grantees could make bulk payments, as doing so reduces time spent and is easier for both the grantee and the landlord/utility provider.
- Provide that grantees may enter into partnerships with nonprofits to deliver assistance to households at risk of eviction while their applications are pending processing.
- Allow grantees to make additional rent payments to a landlord if they are willing to rent to “hard-to-house” tenants who would not otherwise qualify under the landlord’s occupancy policies, in order to reduce risk to the landlord.
- Clarify that grantees may use ERA to cover past arrears from a previous residence if a tenant has moved to a new home, as long as this is done at the request of the tenant. This is important, as a tenant may have left an apartment but the debt from arrears owed at their previous residence is preventing a new landlord from renting to the tenant, leading to challenges in getting a new apartment.
- Expand the “other expenses related to housing” that are eligible for ERA assistance to include rent or “rent bonds” posted by a tenant with a court as a condition of obtaining a hearing, reopening an eviction action, appealing an order of eviction, reinstating a lease, or otherwise avoiding an eviction order.
NCSHA issued a statement commending Treasury for acting to reduce regulatory burdens so that grantees will have more flexibility and clarity needed to streamline their programs. NCSHA strongly encourages state HFAs administering ERA, and all other grantees, to take full advantage of these important new flexibilities and modify their policies accordingly.
Treasury also released ERA spending data for the month of July showing that state and local ERA grantees distributed nearly $1.7 billion in rental and utility assistance last month on behalf of 340,000 households. State grantees alone distributed more than $1 billion in resources to more than 220,000 households in July, as NCSHA had predicted.
For more information about state ERA programs, NCSHA’s communications with Treasury, and other resources, see NCSHA’s ERA Resources page, where they have links to every state’s ERA application portal.