Georgia Should Lead with Equity in Distributing Emergency Rental Assistance
Housing advocates and community leaders championed federal safety nets for renters and landlords alike as Covid-19 wreaked havoc on incomes and job stability. Concern over housing instability remains consistent despite an unprecedented amount of federal funding deployed to states and local governments. The problem is particularly acute for Black and brown communities, which are often the most impacted by economic shocks due to historic and systemic inequities.
Although emergency rental assistance has become available and programs to disburse these funds are underway, reports indicate a lag in getting resources to the families and property owners who need support. Program administrators in metro Atlanta and across the state should take several key steps to ensure emergency resources are deployed equitably and efficiently.
There is a clear need to align the administration of emergency rental assistance programs with best practices across all state and local programs. One strategy to ensure the equitable reach of emergency rental assistance is to place an intentional focus on families who face barriers in the application process. Barriers may include language, literacy, access to the internet, and lack of transportation, among others. Consider the demographics and special needs of the local community and develop tactics to connect those families with these essential resources. Also, eliminate confusion by providing accurate and consistent guidance across all touchpoints with prospective applicants.
Emergency rental assistance must be made available to qualified applicants irrespective of race or citizen status. Some of the most impacted families in Georgia and in the metro Atlanta area do not speak English as a first language. Program administrators can facilitate equitable access by ensuring that instructions and applications are translated into the common languages spoken in each area. Staff should be available to translate and help applicants throughout the process. Program administrators are not allowed to require social security numbers for applications, which can have a discriminatory impact based on citizenship status. For example, Washington State explicitly states that U.S. citizenship is not an eligibility requirement. Program administrators in Georgia must ensure that application materials make no such suggestion.
Program administrators must also be mindful that families in most need of assistance may have limited access to technology. Opening public spaces (i.e., local schools, libraries, community centers, etc.) for the local community to apply for assistance can help close this gap. Administrators can also consider providing alternative access to application resources via telephone or in person at community hubs. Creating these additional options for assistance also helps limit barriers for individuals and families at all literacy levels.
Another tactic is to heed the guidance of the U.S. Treasury and adopt practices that reduce the paperwork required of applicants. Allow for self-attestation as proof of income, hardship, and other relevant components to the applications. Consider utilizing proxies to automatically qualify families who receive public assistance such as SNAP, TANF or Medicaid. These measures help to reduce stagnation in the application process and get rental payments to property owners more quickly.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition provides regular updates on emergency rental assistance programs and guidance with a listing of best practices and FAQs. One barrier often cited is lack of landlord participation. Administrators should make efforts to reach them, and, in instances where property owners are not engaged, allow for direct-to-tenant disbursements so that renters aren’t penalized for a landlord’s failure to participate.
There are still opportunities to connect tenants and property owners to rental assistance even after an eviction is filed. Court interventions create a direct opportunity to identify tenants with arrears who are in jeopardy of losing their homes and staining their rental history. Philadelphia has been the national model for its eviction diversion strategies. Courts require that landlords apply for emergency rental assistance on behalf of tenants 45 days prior to filing for an eviction. Landlords must accept these payments if approved. Similar court intervention strategies require that courts and/or landlords provide notice of available emergency rental assistance programs before moving forward with an eviction proceeding. Others require landlords and/or tenants to apply for assistance and stay (pause) the eviction proceeding until there is a final determination on the application.
Enterprise Community Partners is organizing a series of webinars to share eviction prevention strategies that focus on both the short- and long-term impacts of making these critical interventions in response to COVID-related economic loss. Register for our upcoming webinar on November 16th, here. We also regularly provide strategies and guidance through our blog. Subscribe here for regular updates.
Written By: Kandice Allen Mitchell, Policy Director, Enterprise Community Partners, SE