What to do When You Can’t Afford Rent

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Most people have to pay for housing, whether it’s a mortgage or rent and that can get expensive, especially for people with no income.

If you can’t afford your rent, there are a variety of organizations and resources that can help, not only with providing short and long-term rent relief, but also with information that will help keep a roof over your head and resolve problems with your landlord.

COVID-19 Rental Assistance

The COVID-19 pandemic was tough on renters. The government stepped in to provide help, but their huge safety net goes away with the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium on October 3, 2021.

The federal government’s stimulus bills combined to offer $46 billion in rent relief to cover rents during the pandemic, so landlords wouldn’t suffer financial hardship because of the ban on evictions. The relief is administered through state housing authorities and funded by the three major federal COVID-19 relief packages passed between March 2020 and March 2021.

The program was slow to take hold, though, as states struggled with how to get the money to landlords. A big issue was simply making tenants and landlords aware the money was there.

While the federal government allotted $46 billion for rental relief, as of early July only $25 million had been paid out, according to the U.S. Treasury.

The good news is that when the federal government announced the end of the eviction ban, it also issued guidelines to help states streamline the process of getting the relief money to those who need it.

If you can’t pay your rent, you may be wondering what that means for you. Let’s take a look.

The Eviction Moratorium

The end of the eviction moratorium means it’s easier for landlords to evict tenants who can’t pay their rent, even if lack of payment is because they lost their job or much of their income during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the end of the moratorium does not mean the end of help for people who can’t pay rent.

Some states, including California and Washington, have their own moratoriums, which last until September. The website nolo.com keeps an up-to-date chart on state eviction bans and other tenant protections, with links to state websites.

States have been urged to speed up the process of putting rental relief money to work, as well as to use COVID relief money to help with support services to keep people from being evicted.

If you’re facing eviction, some helpful resources are:

State and Local Programs

Federal COVID-19 rent relief money is administered through state housing authorities. The relief money goes to landlords to cover rent of tenants who qualify, including back rent. Households can be covered for up to 12 months’ worth of rent for bills incurred through December 2021. But housing authorities don’t just do this during a pandemic – their sole purpose is to help people keep a roof over their head.

The quickest way to find rent relief is to Google your state and “housing authority.” Every state has a housing authority or agency.

The website publictableau.com also has a table specific to COVID-19 rent relief that lists the programs, with links, for every state.

Emergency Rental Assistance

Aside from rent relief specific to COVID-19, there are many charities and organizations that help people who can’t pay their rent.

Some of them are:

The National Coalition of State Housing Authorities has links to each state’s housing authority-administered emergency rental assistance program.

Community Action Agencies exist in every state and are set up to help people with challenges including housing, education and childcare.

Catholic Charities is a national organization dedicated to reducing poverty that helps those who qualify regardless of religion, race, nationality, gender or ability to pay. It has extensive assistance programs that not only help with housing, but also food and paying other bills.

The Salvation Army can help with temporary housing and other needs, with services that vary by locality.

Modest Needs is an organization that will provide grants of up to $1,000 directly to the landlord of someone who has no other means of paying their rent.

Twenty-five states have some form general assistance, or general relief, programs that are administered through the town or city government, for people who have no other recourse and need financial help. These programs generally don’t provide cash, but do help applicants find resources. Call or email your town or city government to see if grant assistance or grant relief is available where you live.

Long Term Rental Assistance

There’s also help available for those who need housing assistance on a more long-term basis.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has a long-term rental assistance program that’s set up to provide safe, decent public housing for individuals, families, seniors and those with disabilities. Public housing is available to those who meet certain low-income criteria, with the figures varying depending on location.

HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program is also available to help cover rent in private housing.

Its Home Invest program supports nonprofits and other organizations that develop affordable housing.

To find out how to apply and if you qualify, contact your local housing authority or Community Action Program.

Going Beyond Rent Relief

The pandemic has made some state governments recognize that keeping people in their rental housing is about more than whether the tenant can pay rent. Many states are looking at ways to keep tenants from being evicted that go beyond simple rent relief.

Almost half of the landlords surveyed by the Urban Institute in February 2021 didn’t know federal rental assistance existed. A whopping 68.8% of tenants surveyed were unaware. Lack of information about eviction rights and resources was found to lead to more evictions.

That lack of information expands beyond COVID assistance. A study by the Maine Coalition for Affordable Housing found that legal representation is one of the most effective ways for tenants to avoid eviction. Tenants with an attorney were 85% more likely to avoid an eviction judgment than those without representation. That state is now funding a program with COVID relief money that will ensure tenants are informed of their rights and get a chance for legal representation.

Research also has found women and people of color are more likely to be evicted for not paying rent, and that low-income women, especially those of color, have the highest risk of eviction. Domestic violence victims and families with children are also at particularly high risk.

» More About: Financial Help for Low-Income Americans

Many states are how considering bills that look at some of the issues leading to eviction, and adding tenant protections, particularly making sure renters are provided with information and resources.

» More About: How Much Rent Can I Afford?

About The Author

Joey Johnston

Joey Johnston has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist with the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times. He has won a dozen national writing awards and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and People Magazine. He started writing for InCharge Debt Solutions in 2016.