White House encourages states to get rental assistance out faster

A rally to prevent Massachusetts evictions in front of Boston Housing Court on Oct. 15, 2020.

MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images | MediaNews Group | Getty Images

Biden administration officials urged states and cities on Wednesday to move quickly to get federal assistance out to the millions of households that are behind on rent because of the pandemic.

“We have to do everything we can to prevent heartbreak for families and economic distress for landlords,” said Gene Sperling, a senior advisor to President Joe Biden, at the White House Eviction Prevention Summit.

The national ban on evictions will expire at the end of the month, even as more than 11 million Americans, or 16% of U.S. renters, say they still aren’t caught up with their housing payments, according to a recent analysis by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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More than $45 billion in rental assistance has been allocated by Congress in the last two major stimulus packages, yet by the end of June just $3 billion had reached families, according to data by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Advocates blame the snail-paced rollout of the aid on complicated and cumbersome application requirements implemented by the hundreds of programs tasked with distributing the funds. Before the pandemic, the U.S. had no infrastructure to give out rental aid and prevent evictions.

Many landlords have also refused the funding because they don’t want to agree to its terms, which can include a ban on evicting that tenant or raising their rent for a window of time.

To combat these problems, the Biden administration is encouraging programs, as much as possible, to take tenants applying for the aid at their word rather than requiring documentation. Currently, just a little more than half of programs are doing that.

“This is counter to clear direction and guidance from the White House, and has the effect of both slowing down the process for everyone and often weeding out some of the lowest-income people most in need,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The White House also said programs should allow direct payments to renters if their landlords reject the relief, and to permit tenants to apply that funding to secure new housing if necessary.

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