Survey Indicates Outreach Increased Participation of Low-Income Tenants in California ERA Program

A report released by the Housing Initiative at Penn (HIP), “Emergency Rental Assistance Outreach: Evaluating strategies to reach and support vulnerable tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic in California,” discusses how outreach helped underserved renters gain access to the State of California’s Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program. Most organizations that were surveyed reported their outreach strategies were effective and increased the participation of low-income and underserved tenants in the ERA program – which was funded by the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) – despite a difficult application process. The report underscores the important role played by nonprofit and community-based organizations in improving the accessibility of Treasury’s ERA program.  

Researchers surveyed organizations that were included in the Local Partner Network (LPN) – a network of more than 100 nonprofit and community-based organizations throughout California – in October and December 2021. The LPN was administered by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in partnership with the California ERA program.  Each county in California was served by at least one LPN member organization. Member organizations conducted activities in at least one of the following categories: outreach, program promotion, application assistance, application pop-ups, and door knocking. LPN member organizations were surveyed regarding the following areas: outreach and marketing effectiveness, application processes for rental assistance, tenant and landlord relations in completing applications, and the LPN program.

More than 80% of organizations surveyed reported that their outreach strategies were moderately or very effective and nearly nine in 10 organizations felt they had moderately or significantly increased tenant participation in the program. Surveyed organizations indicated that partnering with local groups and community institutions (e.g., churches and schools) increased their effectiveness. Organizations reported using a variety of marketing mediums, including both written materials and radio advertisements.

One of the core activities for LPN organizations was application support. More than 70% of survey respondents described the ERA application as moderately or very difficult for tenants to complete, particularly during the early stages of the ERA program. Difficulties included the length of the application, unnecessary information being requested by the application, and challenges involved in navigating the website. Respondents reported that non-English language applications were difficult to access or understand. However, the state ERA program made several changes to the application, and researchers found that more than 60% of survey respondents were moderately or very satisfied with the changes made during the summer of 2021.

Nearly 65% of survey respondents indicated that tenants were very willing to receive application support, while around 60% indicated that landlords were only moderately willing to support tenants’ rental assistance application. The California ERA application process required the participation of both a tenant and their landlord. Organizations noted that landlords’ general distrust of government programs and frustration with the ERA program were challenges. Several organizations stressed the need for clear and consistent information-sharing with landlords and the importance of mediating between landlords and tenants during the application process.

A unique aspect of the LPN was the incorporation of up-to-date, jurisdictional-level data on estimated households at risk of eviction in conjunction with the number of ERA applications submitted. Organizations that found the data helpful indicated that the data assisted them in tracking their efforts to reach those at risk of eviction, provided them with an estimate of how many applications were coming from various localities, and helped them better target their efforts.

Read the report at: