NLIHC and Housing Initiative at Penn Release Report on Implications of Pandemic Emergency Rental Assistance for Permanent ERA Programs

The report shows that ERA programs faced recurring challenges in four areas: (1) staff capacity, technology, and infrastructure; (2) tenant responsiveness and application completeness; (3) landlord responsiveness; and (4) federal guidance. Programs adapted to these challenges by partnering with nonprofits; conducting more targeted outreach and introducing greater documentation flexibility; loosening landlord requirements; and incorporating direct-to-tenant assistance. The report suggests that efforts to establish permanent ERA programs should take into account the importance of ensuring sufficient and sustained funding, being flexible about eligibility and documentation requirements, incorporating direct-to-tenant assistance, and utilizing clear and timely guidance.

Researchers drew on data from four national surveys of ERA program administrators to identify broad trends and to track specific changes in programs participating in both the first (Fall 2020) and final (late-2021) surveys. Using data from the final survey of 100 ERA program administrators, researchers also identified changes made by programs when switching from offering support through ERA1 to ERA2. Among other things, the research used by the report covers administrators’ reflections on what they would have changed – but did not or could not change – given what they had come to know about program operations.

A consistent majority of ERA programs – ranging from 60% to 68% across surveys conducted between Fall 2020 and late-2021 – faced challenges with staff capacity, technology, and infrastructure. More programs faced challenges with tenant responsiveness and landlord responsiveness over time. Finally, many administrators reflected on the importance of federal guidance and echoed findings from earlier research that shifting guidance proved challenging. An increasing number of programs partnered with nonprofits to help administer their programs; conducted more targeted outreach through housing courts; introduced greater documentation flexibility through self-attestation, fact-specific proxies, and categorical eligibility; loosened landlord requirements; and incorporated direct-to-tenant assistance.

The report concludes by providing four important considerations for efforts to establish permanent ERA programs:

  • Sufficient and sustained funding is important for building adequate infrastructure and capacity. Permanent ERA programs with sustained funding would preserve program infrastructures created by temporary ERA programs and give program administrators the opportunity to make longer-term improvements in staffing, technology, and staff training.
  • Flexibility in eligibility and documentation requirements, as well as targeted outreach, are important for program accessibility. Incomplete applications and difficulties related to obtaining documents from tenants have posed persistent challenges for ERA programs, which greater flexibility may help alleviate.
  • Direct-to-tenant assistance can also improve program accessibility. Providing assistance directly to tenants ensures that qualified tenants are not denied aid simply because their landlord does not engage with a government program.
  • Clear and timely guidance and program parameters can increase program administrators’ certainty in making decisions on infrastructure, capacity, and program design. Shifting guidance forced ERA administrators to frequently revise program design and implementation, which increased administrative burdens and slowed the disbursal of funds.

Read the report at: