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Emergency Rental Assistance Programs: Opportunities for Refugees and other ORR-Eligible Clients

Photo credit: AOberstadt/IRC

Housing is a key challenge facing refugee service providers and communities around the U.S. There is an opportunity to coordinate with state or local partners on the use of existing federal programs, Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) 1 and 2, to support clients, including refugees and other Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)-eligible clients. This blog post shares information on these programs and tips for how to get started.

What is Emergency Rental Assistance?

Congress established an Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program, administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, to distribute emergency rent and utility assistance to millions of households at risk of losing their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress provided more than $46 billion for emergency rental assistance through the Consolidated Appropriations Act enacted in December 2020 and the American Rescue Plan Act enacted in March 2021.

There are two programs, ERA1 and ERA2. ERA1 funds generally expire on September 30, 2022. The Treasury Department may recapture “excess funds” beginning on September 30, 2021, and re-obligate these to other grantees that have spent at least 65% of their funds. The Treasury Department released ERA1 reallocation guidance in October. See the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) fact sheet on ERA1 reallocation to learn more. ERA2 funds expire on September 30, 2025.

More information on ERA is available from this Treasury Department ERA FAQ.

Who is Eligible for ERA?

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has not released information on eligibility for specific individuals or populations, and eligibility determinations are typically handled on the grantee level.  The general eligibility requirements for individuals (who must have an existing rental obligation to receive funding) include:

  • One or more individuals within the household has qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the COVID-19 outbreak. (For ERA 2: due to or during the COVID-19 outbreak);
  • One or more individuals within the household can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and
  • The household has a household income at or below 80 percent of area median income. (For ERA 2, similar income criteria).

See this Treasury Department ERA FAQ for more information.

Service providers in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma are using Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) funds to support Afghan newcomers. This program is being implemented as a partnership between Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and Community Cares Partners (CCP), a public-private partnership that distributes Emergency Rental Assistance allocated by Oklahoma state and local governments.

Opportunity and Timing

According to analysis shared by the National Multifamily Housing Council, as of August 2021, less than 17% of the $46 billion in emergency rental assistance funds had been disbursed nationally. Per a Treasury Department plan issued in October, grantees (typically state and local governments) that have not obligated at least 65% of their ERA1 funding have until November 15, 2021 to submit a Performance Improvement Plan to the Treasury for approval.  If grantees do not submit an adequate plan, 10% of their ERA1 funds will be considered to be “excess” and subject to recapture (i.e., funds will be returned to the federal government and/or redistributed elsewhere). Grantees with expenditures less than 30% as of September 30, 2021 are at even greater risk of recapture.

The reallocation process for ERA2 funds will begin in March of 2022. States and localities may also obligate ERA2 funding now.

How Can Refugee Service Providers, States, and Local Governments Coordinate?

First, check the status of ERA spending in your community (state, city, and/or county):

  1. Visit the U.S. Department of Treasury Reporting page. Scroll to the section titled “Program data reported by grantees.”
  2. Download the file “Emergency Rental Assistance Monthly Compliance Report August 1-31, 2021.”
  3. Go to the tab for the “ERA1 State & Local Reporting” worksheet.
  4. Scroll down to find the state or local government you are interested in.
  5. Locate Column H, “Assistance to Households Expenditure Ratio as of August 31.” This is the percentage of funding spent as of this date.
  6. Locate Column O, “Total ERA 1 Allocation, Award, and Disbursement $ Millions.” This is the total funding available for the state or locality.

Even if your community has a high obligation rate, you can still have an exploratory conversation with your partners about how ERA may be able to support newcomers in your community, including via the ERA2 program.

Next, check in with contacts in local government, state government, and communities to explore opportunities for partnership. If you work in a State government setting, consider connecting with local resettlement agencies and local government contacts, as well as other State offices for refugees.

Resettlement agency staff can consider contacting State Refugee Coordinators (SRCs); city or county contacts (e.g., mayor and/or city council member staff, county executive and/or commissioner staff, Office of New Americans); or local agency partners (e.g., human services or other contacts, such as your local ERA-administering agency). The box below offers language you can adapt:

Sample Outreach from Resettlement Agency to Partner on ERA-funded Programming

Dear [CONTACT NAME],

If existing contact: Thank you for your partnership as we work together to serve refugees in our community.

If new contact: Here at [ORGANIZATION NAME], we are helping recently arrived families to successfully establish themselves in the community, including by obtaining employment, enrolling in school, securing temporary and permanent housing, and more.

In some resettlement locations, state and local governments are allocating a portion of their federal Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program dollars to support refugees. Our understanding is that some of these funds (ERA1 funds) must be obligated in the near future to avoid redistribution of these dollars elsewhere. It appears that in [STATE], as of August 31, only [X]% of ERA1 funds had been obligated and in [CITY/LOCALE], only [X]% of ERA1 funds had been obligated. These funds can be used to support newcomers like resettled refugees.

Is this something that [CONTACT’S AGENCY/ORGANIZATION] may consider or be able to advise upon? We would be interested in scheduling a call or meeting to further discuss at a time that works best for you.

Many thanks for your time and consideration,

[SIGNATURE]

If you are able to establish a partnership to offer ERA-funded housing support to your clients, outreach to landlords/housing partners will be a key program component. Below is a sample letter to landlords explaining the funds that such a partnership might guarantee for a prospective tenant. This letter, adapted from Community Cares Partners (CCP), can be modified based on your partnership’s needs. It is also intended to be followed by a separate Emergency Rental Agreement outlining the specifics of your partnership’s ERA-funded support.

Sample Letter from Resettlement Agency to Landlord on Guaranteeing a Tenant’s Rent/Expenses

RE: Guarantee of payment of rent and other relocation expenses

Dear [LANDLORD NAME],                            

Thank you so much for considering renting to our client, Tenant [CLIENT NAME]. [CLIENT NAME] has applied and been approved for Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA).  This letter will serve as a guarantee of payment for the amount and terms below.

Please accept this Letter of Guarantee as the pledge of [ORGANIZATION NAME] to send you payment for the total of the:

  • application fee,
  • security deposit(s),
  • utilities deposit (if part of lease)
  • incidental costs under the lease required for move-in,
  • first month’s rent (and utilities, if part of lease), and
  • next three (3) months’ rent (and utilities, if part of lease) for Tenant

within 20 days of the receipt of:

  • an executed lease with Tenant,
  • your correct and complete W-9 (this will be the address for payment unless otherwise notified),
  • ACH form (sent separately), if using,
  • confirmation of access to the residence, and
  • executed Emergency Rental Assistance Agreement, confirming amounts and months paid, and sent separately when lease received.

If Tenant continues to qualify, future rent assistance payable in three-month increments may be available. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated. Please know that you are helping to change lives here in [COMMUNITY NAME]. If you have questions, do not hesitate to reach out to [CONTACT INFORMATION].

Best,

[SIGNATURE]

Do you have a success story about how ERA programs are supporting newcomers in your community? Email Switchboard@Rescue.org!

Recommended Resources

 U.S. Department of the Treasury

  Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB):

Social Security Administration

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