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As the coronavirus spreads, government agencies and private charities are stepping in to help support renters during this unprecedented time.
In April, the nation’s unemployment rate rose to 14.7%, with more than 23 million Americans filing for unemployment as businesses shut down to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. With so many people out of work, many could find it more and more difficult to pay their rent.
In response, some local governments have created rent relief funds, while many states and the federal government have implemented some tenant protections as well. And a number of charitable organizations are also stepping in to help with rent relief.
It’s important to know that renters who live in federally subsidized units (more on that below), in federally subsidized low-income housing or in homes with federally backed (FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) mortgages are currently protected from evictions under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. To learn if you may be eligible for a temporary eviction moratorium, check the National Low Income Housing Coalition database.
If you’re struggling to pay your rent during the coronavirus pandemic, take a look at this list of financial assistance efforts and eligibility requirements to help you find the relief you need.
What can I do if I can’t pay my rent?
If you’re experiencing financial hardship because of the coronavirus, start by communicating with your landlord as soon as possible.
Write a letter or send an email explaining your situation. Your landlord may be eligible for mortgage relief from their lender, which might make them more willing to work with you.
If your landlord can’t fully suspend your rent payments, they may consider a different payment plan. Keep in mind that each landlord might operate under different guidelines. At the end of the day, your landlord wants to get paid for their rental and may be more motivated than usual to work with you on a payment plan.
Rent assistance and relief
If you’re not sure how you’re going to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic, there may be local, state and federal rental assistance programs that can help.
Local rent relief
Rental assistance programs: Some local governments have set up funds to help residents pay rent after facing reduced hours or losing their job because of the coronavirus.
For example, the city of Boston has dedicated $3 million to rent relief. Low-income residents can apply for up to $4,000 if they’re not eligible for expanded unemployment benefits or if these benefits will represent a significant drop in income.
Deferring rent payments: Some local governments have created programs that allow tenants to postpone making rent payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in the city of West Sacramento, California, renters who qualify are allowed to defer rent payments through July 28, 2020, though they must produce supporting documentation of income loss before their rent payments are due.
Where to get help: To search for emergency rental assistance programs in your area, reach out to your city and county governments. Check with your state to see what’s available as well. You can find the contact information for your state government at usa.gov.
Federal rent relief
Project-based rental assistance: The CARES Act, which was passed on March 27, 2020, allocates $1.25 billion to help public housing agencies respond to the coronavirus with assistance for renters. The law provides an additional $1 billion for project-based rental assistance, a type of HUD housing program where the government contracts with landlords directly to provide affordable rentals. The details of the program are still being worked out, but part of the money is designed to help keep Section 8 programs operating normally without terminating assistance for families.
Where to get help: To see if you qualify for assistance, contact a HUD-approved housing counseling agency in your state.
Other organizations providing rent relief
If you’re not eligible for federal help — or your city, county or state isn’t offering rent relief at this time — these organizations may be able to help.
- Local housing authorities — Local housing authorities like United Way have resources and recommendations that may help.
- State housing finance agencies — To understand what help you may qualify for, contact your local public housing agency or call 1-800-955-2232.
- State or county social service agencies — See if your state or county is offering immediate emergency rent relief or can refer you to an organization that does. Start at usa.gov to see what may be available.
- 211 — Check 211.org or dial 2-1-1 to reach a resource that will direct you to rental assistance programs that may be in your area.
- Salvation Army — In many areas, the Salvation Army offers one-time rent assistance. Rent assistance is typically limited to people earning less than 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. Contact your local chapter for details and to check whether you qualify.
- Catholic Charities — Some Catholic Charities branches are offering emergency assistance grants that you can use to help pay rent. Visit the charity’s website to find out more.
- Modest Needs — This national charity helps people facing short-term financial needs. It’s currently accepting applications to help people who’ve had their hours reduced or been laid off because of the coronavirus. You can apply for help with Modest Needs online.
If the coronavirus has caused you to fall behind on rent payments, take note that evictions have been temporarily suspended in many jurisdictions.
Local eviction protection
What it is: Many states and local governments have suspended eviction proceedings in their jurisdictions. For example, Iowa and Minnesota have suspended evictions until further notice.
How it works: To find out if your state or local government is offering eviction protection and what that protection might be, find your state government’s contact information at usa.gov.
It may be tempting to stop paying rent if evictions have been suspended in your area. But keep in mind that these suspensions are almost certainly temporary, and evictions will resume at some point. If you can still pay rent, or otherwise work with your landlord, it’s important to do so to avoid falling behind.
Eligibility: Some states have specific requirements to qualify for an eviction suspension. For example, Utah requires that tenants have been current on their payments as of March 31, and tenants must document that they were financially hurt by COVID-19.
If you’re considering legal support to get eviction protection, you can search the Just Shelter website to find out what community resources may be available to you.
Federal eviction protection
What it is: If you currently live in a property with a federally backed mortgage loan or a property that participates in a covered housing program, you’re protected from new eviction proceedings through July 24, 2020.
How it works: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees federal housing programs, including government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. If your building has a mortgage backed by Fannie or Freddie, your landlord may be eligible for mortgage relief — and they’re required to pass it on to you. Landlords participating in Fannie or Freddie relief programs aren’t allowed to evict tenants while they’re in mortgage forbearance.
Additionally, the CARES Act put a 120-day moratorium on eviction filings for rental properties with a federally backed mortgage loan or one that participates in any federal programs. This includes public housing, Section 8 housing, rural housing vouchers, and properties with loans backed by Fannie and Freddie.
Eligibility: Roughly 8 million renters nationwide live in properties insured by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and thousands more may be covered by other provisions of this program. Check with your landlord or property manager to see if you’re eligible for eviction protection. You can also find more info on HUD’s dedicated COVID-19 resource page.
We still don’t know how long the coronavirus crisis will last. Temporary rental relief measures like the ones we mentioned above may be extended depending on guidance from agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you’re struggling to pay your rent, communicate with your landlord immediately and do some homework. Understanding who owns your building’s mortgage can help you determine what types of rental relief you may be eligible for.
But even if you’re unable to work out a rent solution with your landlord, you’re unlikely to lose your rental right away — especially since many state and local governments have created rent relief funds or suspended eviction proceedings. If you need to get legal help, you may be eligible for free or low-cost representation. Check to see if there are any legal aid offices in your area if you need to go that route.Find out more about emergency relief measures from local, state and federal agencies