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. This paper asks: how did the COVID-19 emergency rental assistance programs launched in hundreds of localities across the United States respond to this challenge?
In January 2021, the Housing Initiative at Penn (HIP), the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), and the NYU Furman Center released the results of a survey of 220 COVID-19 rental assistance programs. The survey examined key characteristics of these programs and explore how certain characteristics correlated with programs’ ability to efficiently distribute funds. Through 15 in-depth case studies, this brief tells the story of how several programs evolved over time, and the rich learning that occurred in each jurisdiction. The 15 rental assistance programs chosen represent jurisdictions ranging from small and rural to large and urban for in-depth structured interviews. The brief focuses on the key challenges these program administrators discussed, the innovative strategies they used to address these challenges, and the lessons current and future program administrators can take away.
The NYU Furman Center, together with the Housing Initiative at Penn and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, recently co-authored a report describing these “first-generation” COVID rental assistance programs, based on a survey of 220 programs across the country. This brief draws upon the analysis from that survey, along with additional document review and interviews with selected program administrators. Based on these sources, the brief highlights several lessons about strategies states and localities can use to design and implement more equitable emergency rental assistance programs.
The report examines program decisions against outcome metrics, such as a ratio of actual number of applicants to expected number of applicants and funds obligated as a share of total program funds. A survey launched in August 2020, and ran through October 2020, collecting information from program administrators, many of whom provided follow-up responses to requests for outcome data in December 2020 and January 2021.