In response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, the federal government allocated funds for emergency rental assistance programs to states, localities, U.S. territories and in some cases, Indian tribes.
Both federal legislation and administering agencies have shaped program design. In March of 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated funds to states and localities through two sources, both administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These sources included the Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG-CV). In December of that same year, an omnibus coronavirus relief package established the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance program, referred to as ERA1. This legislation included $25 billion in funds for rent and utility relief. In March of 2021, Congress allocated an additional $21.55 billion for a second program administered by the Treasury, called ERA2, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. In addition to a change in the administering federal agency, some program requirements have changed over time, such as lowering the population requirement for cities to receive direct allocations from 500,000 residents to 200,000. Within the requirements of federal guidance, local administrators have sought to address challenges to program success, including tenant take-up, outreach to underserved groups, landlord participation, and building capacity both within local agencies and with nonprofit partners.
In New York State, households are eligible at two income thresholds: first, households earning at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) and second, those earning between 80 and 120 percent AMI. To be eligible, households must also receive unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19. New York State’s program includes both rental and utility arrears and does not require any proof of immigration status for eligibility. In New York, the program funds up to 12 months of rental and utility arrears, and up to three months of future rent, if households spend 30 percent of their income or more on rent. All payments are made directly to landlords. New York also set prioritization guidelines, based on AMI thresholds and other characteristics related to housing instability.