Tens of billions in rent relief is bogged down

Old apartment buildings and fire escapes, New York City
Robert Crum / Shutterstock

The two most recent COVID stimulus packages passed by Congress set aside a total of $46.6 billion to help renters pay overdue rent and utility costs. But only about $5.1 billion has been distributed so far — a mere 11% of the money, the Treasury revealed on Wednesday.

While the funds are being provided by Washington, they’re being distributed through hundreds of programs at the state and local levels. And many of those "need to do more to urgently accelerate efforts to prevent harmful evictions of vulnerable families," the Treasury says.

With aid spread across many different housing authorities, each with its own resource and capacity constraints, renters in different places are not receiving the same levels of service or responsiveness.

"Treasury continues to use every lever at its disposal to urge states to distribute assistance to renters and landlords swiftly," the department says in a news release.

Officials warn that programs that can't get their act together by the end of September will have their rental assistance funding taken away and given to other programs that are doing a better job of getting the money out.

If you or someone you know has tried to apply for emergency rental assistance and became frustrated by a drawn-out or confusing process, you might want to check back soon with the local housing authority to see if things have improved.

The holdups add to the challenges facing renters

Doubletree Studio / Shutterstock

The stimulus aid available to renters can be sizable. In Illinois, eligible tenants and landlords can apply for one-time grants of up to $25,000 to pay off a maximum 15 months of rent missed between June 2020 and August 2021.

The program in Texas is covering unpaid rent and utilities going as far back as March 13, 2020, and can pay for up to two months of future rent and utilities. The relief for Texas renters caps out at $4,600 per month.

But as snags hold up rental assistance in many parts of the country, things are looking bleaker for people who rent.

A national eviction moratorium was extended in early August, but the new end date is just weeks away, on Oct. 3. And landlords and other opponents of the ban are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will strike it down early.

Anyone evicted from their properties in the coming months could have much more difficulty finding an affordable place to go, because rents are soaring.

Rents for detached homes in the U.S. were 10.5% higher in June than a year earlier, according to data from CoreLogic. Rents for attached properties, including high-rise and garden apartments, grew by a more modest, but still budget-stretching, 4.6%.

How to make your own rent relief

Stressed-out young family
Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

Here's the best recommendation if you or someone in your circle owes a substantial amount of back rent: Apply for emergency rental assistance today. There is still a pile of money waiting to be claimed.

In June, six months after an initial rental aid fund of $25 billion was signed by President Donald Trump, only 12% of the money had made it to renters, according to the Treasury. An even smaller percentage of the $21.5 billion signed by Biden in March had been distributed by the end of July.

If you're still struggling to make ends meet because of the pandemic, here are a few other ways to give yourself more financial breathing room.

  • Eliminate debt. If your budget is stretched to the limit every month because of multiple high-interest debts, consider rolling them all into a single, lower-interest debt consolidation loan. You’ll pay less in interest and potentially wipe out your debt sooner.
  • Find a new job. The hiring boom taking place in the U.S. right now is an excellent opportunity to find a new, higher-paying job. If you’re happy where you’re at, but would like to generate a little more income through freelancing, there are plenty of people out there who will pay for your skills.
  • Cut costs when you shop. You can save when you shop online by downloading a free browser extension that will automatically scan thousands of retailers for lower prices — and keep you from overpaying.
  • Make money investing your pennies. Even if you're strapped for cash, it can be surprisingly easy to squeeze a little extra income out of the white-hot stock market. A popular app lets you invest in a diversified portfolio using just your "spare change" from everyday purchases.

About the Author

Clayton Jarvis

Clayton Jarvis


Clayton Jarvis is a mortgage reporter at MoneyWise. Prior to joining the MoneyWise team, Clay wrote for and edited a variety of real estate publications, including Canadian Real Estate Wealth, Real Estate Professional, Mortgage Broker News, Canadian Mortgage Professional, and Mortgage Professional America.

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