Study Highlights Variety of Methods Used by ERA Grantees to Build Capacity for Program Delivery

A new study from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, “Building Local Institutional Capacity: Lessons Learned from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program,” examines how different U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) grantees increased capacity to establish and administer local ERA programs. Using data from interviews with program administrators and their partners, the report highlights factors such as pre-existing capacity and amount of administrative funds that made ERA grantees more or less likely to adopt certain capacity-building strategies. The report also highlights lessons learned that could be used to strengthen future emergency assistance programs and improve service delivery systems generally. Longer-term reforms recommended by the report include creating a permanent ERA infrastructure and increasing program flexibilities in social assistance programs beyond ERA.

The research incorporates findings from 41 stakeholder interviews with local ERA administrators and their partners, including community-based organizations and public housing authorities. The stakeholders represent 21 local ERA programs across the country. The research builds on previous research conducted by the Terner Center, which assessed how local institutional capacity affected ERA disbursal (see Memo 5/2).

Local governments’ pre-existing capacity and infrastructure informed whether they would administer the program in-house, subgrant all of their funds to external partners, or use a combination of both approaches. Some smaller local governments with limited pre-existing capacity, for example, found that it was easier to subgrant ERA funds to local partners because these partners had more experience and larger staffs to run such a program. Some administrators also noted that subgranting funds to non-governmental organizations would allow localities to establish programs more quickly, bypassing some of the more time-intensive bureaucratic procedures that would be required by local governments. In many cases, partnering with community-based organizations not only helped increase capacity, but also helped establish trust and rapport among program applicants.

ERA funding also allowed local governments to build internal capacity, including making investments in increased staffing and technological advancements. Due to the temporary nature of the ERA program, some administrators merely relied on existing staff from other departments to help run their ERA program. This was particularly common among smaller grantees, who lacked the administrative funds to invest in new hires. Some larger grantees were able to use administrative funds to hire new permanent staff – helping ameliorate turnover issues prominent among temporary hires – with the knowledge that future funding sources could continue to support additional staff. Many grantees also used ERA funds to invest in more advanced technological infrastructure, including tablets and laptops that the public could use to apply for ERA, and data management systems to better organize and process applicant data.

The report also outlines lessons learned from administering ERA programs. Short-term lessons learned include the importance of providing clear administrative guidance from program outset, ensuring a clear line of communication between the federal administering office and grantees, and providing template program materials to allow more efficient program start up. Other lessons learned highlighted the need for longer-term reforms to better serve low-income communities. These included creating a permanent ERA infrastructure, allowing increased flexibilities in other social assistance programs – not just emergency programs – and creating permanent cross-system collaborations to fill service delivery gaps.

Read the report at: