Can Emergency Rental Assistance Be Designed to Prevent Homelessness? Learning from Emergency Rental Assistance Programs

Homelessness prevention efforts face an overarching challenge: how to target limited resources far enough downstream to capture those at greatest risk of homelessness, but far enough upstream to stabilize households before they experience a cascade of negative outcomes. How did the COVID-19 emergency rental assistance programs launched in hundreds of localities across the United States respond to this challenge? This paper draws on two waves of a national survey of emergency rental assistance program administrators, as well as in-depth interviews with 15 administrators, to answer this question. Results show that although the vast majority of program administrators considered homelessness prevention to be a key program goal, their programs tended to target rental assistance far upstream of tenants at immediate risk.