Study of Emergency Rental Assistance Programs Identifies Barriers and Best Practices

New research from NLIHC, the Housing Initiative at Penn, and NYU Furman Center examines key characteristics of emergency rental assistance programs and their relationship to program outcomes. The authors report on effective ways for programs to provide emergency rental assistance.

The study surveyed program administrators across the U.S. to identify key decisions in program design and implementation and their relationship with program challenges and outcomes. The sample included 220 emergency rental assistance programs from 22 statewide programs, 48 regions, 80 counties, and 70 cities. Responses spanned 39 states and Washington, DC.

Program administrators provided information about program design and implementation, including funding sources, eligibility criteria, documentation requirements, requirements from landlords, partnerships with other organizations, and outreach methods. The researchers asked program administrators to share program challenges and outcome data. Common challenges included application completeness and staff capacity. The authors assessed program outcomes through several metrics, including a ratio of actual number of applicants to expected number of applicants. Program administrators responded to the survey in August, September, and October 2020, and many provided follow-up outcome data in December 2020 and January 2021. The researchers then examined how key characteristics correlate with program challenges and outcomes to determine what contributes to program’s effectiveness in providing rental assistance to households.

Jurisdictions leveraging existing programs were effective early on. Although newly established programs initially had more difficulty getting funds out the door than existing programs modified in response to COVID-19, they were ultimately able to adapt and were also effective by the end of 2020. Jurisdictions that leveraged local networks, including partnerships with local nonprofits, were particularly effective at getting funds to renters in need, though they, too, experienced delays initially.

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

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

To learn more, read the full report at: