New Research: Many Tenants, Landlords Remain Unaware of Emergency Rental Assistance

As the CDC eviction moratorium is set to expire on July 31, emergency rental assistance must reach households behind on rent to ensure they remain stably housed. New research from the Urban Institute and Avail finds that 57% of tenants and 40% of small landlords do not know about the availability of emergency rental assistance (ERA). An article on Urban Wire reports these data and details reasons renters and landlords who are aware of assistance do not apply. Prevalent reasons included individuals were unsure they would receive the ERA payment, complicated eligibility criteria, and difficulty finding assistance.

Urban Institute and Avail surveyed 1,000 landlords and 1,300 tenants in May to assess their awareness of and experience with ERA programs. Though awareness of ERA was up from a previous survey in February, the majority of tenants (57%) and a substantial portion of landlords (40%) still did not know that rental assistance was available. Tenants who missed rental payments and landlords who lost rental income were no more likely to know about the assistance than tenants and landlords who were current up to date on rental payments/income.

The survey found that even among tenants and landlords who were aware of rental assistance, many decided not to apply. Fifty-five percent of tenants who knew about ERA and missed a rental payment since March 2020 applied for assistance, while only 14% of landlords who knew about ERA and lost rental income applied. The report attributes the particularly low percentage of landlords applying to landlord confusion around different program structures – some of which allow the landlord to initiate the application and others that do not have an option for landlords to apply. The survey did not, however, track different perceptions of landlords based on whether their program allowed them to initiate the application. Of landlords who were aware of rental assistance, 21% reported they were ineligible and 56% reported they were unsure about their eligibility.

Uncertainty about receiving an ERA payment was the most common reason tenants reported not applying, with 46% of tenants reporting this as a barrier. Over one-third of tenants and 30% of landlords reported that complex eligibility criteria deterred them from applying. Communication between landlords and tenants about the assistance was also cited as a common barrier, with 30% of landlords and 24% of tenants citing this as a reason for not applying.

These findings point to the importance of robust outreach and intake efforts to ensure that all parties are aware of assistance. This research also underlines the importance of having clear eligibility criteria, accessible applications, and the option for direct-to-tenant payments. When asked how ERA programs could increase tenant applications, 46% of tenants selected having clearer eligibility criteria, 40% of tenants selected having direct-to-tenant assistance, and 38% selected having simpler applications. NLIHC research on best practices to integrate these program features and examples from programs across the country can be found on the ERA Resource Hub.

Findings from the Urban Institute and Avail survey can be found at: