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New Research Released on COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance

A joint analysis of a national survey of programs

WASHINGTON, DC– The University of Pennsylvania’s Housing Initiative at Penn, the NYU Furman Center, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) released today a new report, “COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance: Analysis of a National Survey of Programs,” from a national survey of over 200 emergency rental assistance program administrators. The report provides a detailed overview of the ways these programs were designed and implemented. It highlights key challenges municipalities said they faced, and examines program decisions against several outcome metrics, including a ratio of actual households served relative to numbers they expected to serve, and the funds obligated as a share of total program funds. Program administrators provided responses to the survey in August, September, and October 2020, and many provided follow-up responses to requests for outcome data in December 2020 and January 2021.

There are many ways for programs to effectively provide emergency rental assistance. Jurisdictions leveraging existing programs were effective early on. “Though newly established programs initially had more difficulty getting funds out the door than existing programs modified in response to COVID-19, they were able to adapt and were ultimately also effective by the end of 2020,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel. “Jurisdictions that leveraged local networks, including partnerships with local nonprofits, were particularly effective at getting funds to renters in need, though they, too, experienced issues initially.”

“The public officials leading these critical rental assistance programs face a host of difficult choices that can have substantial impacts on outcomes,” said Ingrid Gould Ellen, Faculty Director of the NYU Furman Center. “This research arms decision makers with evidence from across the country so they can design and implement programs that provide renters much needed assistance.”

Programs that had a greater number of requirements for landlords or more stringent requirements for landlords tended to serve fewer households than they expected to serve. In particular, the longer a program asked landlords to not evict tenants, the fewer households the program served than expected. Programs with more stringent documentation requirements tended to have challenges with incomplete applications.

“Our findings suggest that more flexible programs, and those that adjusted in innovative ways as they went along, were better able to get funds out the door,” says Vincent Reina, Faculty Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Housing Initiative at Penn. “Through our data, interviews, and partnerships with these programs, we know these innovations included things like creative outreach strategies, modifying landlord requirements, and offering direct-to-tenant assistance. All serve as a testament to the people on the ground doing this work.”

“Importantly, programs targeting households with very low incomes tended to be more effective at distributing assistance than programs targeting households with moderate incomes,” said Ms. Yentel. “Overall, the report provides strong support that program administrators should target resources to the lowest income households most in need, create a simple application process, avoid onerous documentation requirements for tenants, and avoid onerous concessions from landlords in order to effectively distribute rental assistance.”

COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance: Analysis of a National Survey of Programs is available at:


About the National Low Income Housing Coalition

The National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that ensures people with the lowest incomes in the United States have affordable and decent homes. NLIHC educates, organizes, and advocates to ensure decent, affordable housing for everyone. For more information about NLIHC, please visit

About the University of Pennsylvania’s Housing Initiative at Penn

The Housing Initiative at Penn (HIP) is based out of PennPraxis at the University of Pennsylvania and conducts research that advances evidence-based policymaking; designs and evaluates housing policies and programs; and facilitates housing networks and planning processes. Its mission is to advance effective, and equitable housing policy at the local, state, and national levels. For more information about HIP, please visit   

About the NYU Furman Center

The NYU Furman Center advances research and debate on housing, neighborhoods, and urban policy. Established in 1995, it is a joint center of the New York University School of Law and the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. More information can be found at and @FurmanCenterNYU.