2020 was a weird year for real estate. When the pandemic forced many Americans to remain in their homes, there were widespread fears that unemployed homeowners would be unable to pay their mortgages, and renters would be evicted by the millions. Thanks in part to actions by the government – notably a CDC moratorium on evictions for the duration of the pandemic – these dire predictions did not come to pass. Instead, home values have shot steadily upward since the onset of the pandemic, propelled by low mortgage rates.
However, while homeowners have seen the value of their homes increase, renters remain in serious trouble. As a group, they are already at greater financial risk than homeowners; most are poorer, and a disproportionate number work in blue-collar industries such as retail and food service that were heavily affected by the pandemic. Many renters are behind on their payments; a University of California study suggested that landlords were collectively owed more than $20 billion in back rent from their tenants. The federal eviction moratorium is currently slated to expire in three weeks, on June 30. Once it expires, there is little doubt that thousands of renters will end up homeless – with possible negative consequences for public health, as well as for the evicted themselves.
Fortunately, help is on the way. In December 2020 and March 2021, Congress passed two rounds of emergency rental aid, totaling more than $46 billion. If you were adversely affected by the pandemic – which you most likely were – and you are having difficulty paying for your rent, you are most likely eligible for some form of government assistance.
To begin with, at least one member of your household should already qualify for unemployment benefits, and should be willing to acknowledge in writing that your current difficulty in paying rent is caused by the pandemic. You must also be able to prove that, come June 30, you are likely facing eviction. You can do this through providing a rent-past-due notice or a past-due utility bill. Finally, you have to provide your income; only renters whose 2020 incomes have fallen below 80 percent of their community’s median income are eligible. (Of course, if you were unemployed during 2020, this probably will not be difficult to prove.) If all of these benchmarks are accomplished, you will become eligible for up to 18 months of rent relief.
The program is being administered on a state-by-state, rather than national, basis, and available programs for rent relief vary widely by state; the most generous programs could provide up to $25,000 in relief. However, resources exist to help renters nationwide make sense of the programs available to them; the website of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, for instance, is a good place to start.
Trevor Filseth is a news reporter and writer for the National Interest.