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Emergency assistance for tenants and homeowners (Spring 2022)


Housing tools and funds to evade eviction and foreclosure

By Ruth Susswein

Between illness, job loss and a sudden and unexpected lack of income, the COVID pandemic forced millions to fall behind on rent and mortgage payments during the height of the crisis. By December 2020, nearly 9 million renters owed an estimated $44 billion in rent and utilities, and more than 2 million homeowners owed $90 billion in mortgage arrears, insurance and property taxes, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). All were at risk of losing their homes.

Prompted by this unprecedented potential for massive housing loss, Congress and the White House took emergency actions to help struggling individuals and families maintain their housing. The Centers for Disease Control imposed a national eviction moratorium. Federal and state laws banned foreclosures from March 2020 through most of 2021. Mortgage forbearance (a payment pause) was made available to homeowners with federally backed mortgages (and some others) who requested it. President Biden and Congress also extended unemployment benefits, issued stimulus payments, expanded child tax credits, and suspended student loan payments.

Last year, the CFPB warned mortgage servicers that they must work to prevent avoidable foreclosures. It issued a temporary rule mandating that borrowers be given meaningful consideration for a mortgage modification. It also put credit bureaus, tenant screening services and landlords on notice to accurately report COVID-related debt and evictions. The Bureau’s goal has been to help protect people from being denied housing because of COVID-related damage to their credit records, such as loss of a job, a decrease in income or a broken lease.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 130 state and local laws were passed last year to prevent evictions. Princeton University’s Eviction Lab reports that more than 3 million evictions have been averted in the last two years, with low-income and Black neighborhoods benefitting most of all. But these eviction moratoriums have now expired, and emergency financial help was temporary. Nevertheless, efforts are underway to pass laws that would seal eviction records and provide other long-term tenant and homeowner protections that will outlive the pandemic.

At the federal level, more than $46 billion in emergency rental assistance and close to $10 billion in homeowner assistance funds were allocated to ward off homelessness. Today, federal housing funds are wending their way from federal coffers to state and local agencies, slowly helping renters, landlords and homeowners emerge from this crisis, now in its third year. In the stories ahead, we take a close look at the funding and tools available for people to sustain their housing.

Emergency Rental Assistance strives to prevent evictions

By Monica Steinisch

As quarantine orders led to shuttered businesses, and millions of Americans lost income, Congress responded by making billions in rental assistance available. The effort has had mixed results, but tenants in trouble should know that there is still money available to save them from eviction.

Money allocated for renters

To address the rental debt crisis, the U.S. Treasury implemented the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program, through which $46.55 billion would be distributed to states, local governments and tribes to help low-income households cover unmet rent and utility expenses. By the end of February 2022, $22.5 billion had been distributed to pay the arrears for more than four million households—the majority of which have extremely low income.

Struggling renters, like Rebekah Love of Louisville, Kentucky, evaded eviction because of emergency rental assistance. After her small business was forced to shut down due to the pandemic, Love and her teenage daughter were able to remain housed thanks to two rounds of ERA funding.

Nevertheless, by the end of March, more than half of these desperately needed funds still had not been approved or paid out to landlords on behalf of renters, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition's (NLIHC) Spending Tracker. By the end of 2021, 14 states had spent 25% or less of their Emergency Rental Assistance allocations. (See the latest ERA spending at the NLIHC's ERA Dashboard.)

Assistance logjam

Rental assistance dollars are not getting into landlords’ hands quickly enough because some states and local governments had to develop new distribution channels from scratch, creating an immediate, unavoidable roadblock.

There’s also the issue of awareness: A January survey by an online platform serving mom-and-pop landlords revealed that barely half (51.8%) of tenants were aware of the ERA program.

Application processing has been lagging, too. National Equity Atlas, which tracks the status of California’s rental assistance program applications, reported in March that more than 366,000 renters were still waiting for assistance.

Some states have had unspent funds pulled back and reallocated to other states that urgently needed more. West Virginia had to return $29 million; Alabama lost $42 million. California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York renters are the recipients of these diverted funds.

How to get assistance

Qualifying low-income households can receive up to 18 months of help with rent accrued since March 13, 2020. Some programs offer help with future rent (up to three months at a time).

Because the federal program allows ERA funds to be used to cover more than just rent and/or utilities (gas and electricity, fuel oil, water and sewer, and trash removal), some state programs also cover reasonable late fees, moving expenses—even the cost of a hotel/motel room if you have to move out of your home. Ask your local program what is available to you.

Some programs accept applications from both tenants and landlords, but some require the landlord to submit an application first.

Get more details at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website. Information is available in more than half a dozen languages.

Find rental assistance programs using these tools:

  • CFPB “Find rental assistance programs in your area” searchable database
  • NLIHC “Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Programs” database
  • National Fair Housing Alliance “Frontdoor” interactive online tool connecting renters to assistance programs

If you can’t find a program in your area, call 2-1-1 or visit, or contact your local housing authority for help.

Help for homeowners: Homeowner Assistance Fund

By Ruth Susswein

In the thick of the COVID pandemic, 7.7 million homeowners resorted to pausing their monthly mortgage payments. Others simply fell behind, while their debts mounted. More than three-quarters of a million borrowers are still in forbearance and the bills are coming due. But homeowners who’ve been unable to meet their mortgage obligations may be eligible for federal Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) dollars through their states.

HAF funds are earmarked to prevent foreclosure and help homeowners remain in their homes for the long run. Depending on your state, HAF funds can be used to pay overdue mortgages, heating and electric bills, property taxes, homeowners insurance, condo fees, and even, in some cases, home repairs.

HAF programs have been launched in every state except Idaho, which hasn’t applied for the funds. Each state is receiving at least $50 million. Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Tribal lands and territories (Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands) also receive HAF funds.

As of early April, 32 states are accepting applications for HAF funds, with each state managing its program and eligibility requirements a little differently.

For example, Maryland offers a no-interest loan of up to $30,000 (potentially forgivable) for homeowners whose income is at or below 150% of the area median income (AMI), and a grant of up to $10,000 for those up to 100% AMI. Also available is the Maryland WholeHome program, providing low-income homeowners access to grants of up to $10,000 for urgent plumbing, electrical, septic and other repairs. Eligible Marylanders can apply for all three programs.

Maryland’s programs are designed to cover delinquent mortgage payments and/or to help reduce principal balances. In some cases, when Maryland HAF funds reduce balances, homeowners may become eligible for a loan modification that permanently lowers interest rates and provides long-term affordable solutions, allowing homeowners to keep their properties.

Homeowners in Texas with a COVID hardship can apply for HAF funds of up to $40,000 to repay past-due mortgage payments and up to $25,000 to pay delinquent property taxes, insurance and condo fees. Eligibility is based on income at or below 100% AMI. Some homeowners who would not have qualified before the pandemic may now be eligible for help because of job loss, etc.

Click here to learn about eligibility details and program benefits in your state, and here for Tribal housing assistance.

Apply ASAP

Once you know that you’re eligible for assistance, submit an application as soon as possible. Millions of homeowners are in need of help, and funds are already fully committed in New York, Rhode Island, Alabama, Alaska and Puerto Rico. (Borrowers in these states should add their names to a waiting list.) In the future, unused money from other states may be reallocated to states with greater need. This transfer has already happened in a few states with extraordinary need for Emergency Rental Assistance funds.

Your state’s HAF program will notify your mortgage servicer that you’ve applied for assistance. Still, we recommend that you contact your servicer directly to ensure that they know you have applied for HAF assistance. See the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) detailed information on applying for HAF funds.

Preventing foreclosure

Regulators have been urged to prohibit mortgage servicers from foreclosing on any homeowner who has applied for HAF assistance. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced in early April that mortgage servicers are now required to suspend foreclosures for 60 days for homeowners who have applied for HAF funds. Some states (Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont) have also extended stays (bans) on foreclosure for HAF applicants.

The CFPB has warned mortgage servicers to ensure that their procedures are not resulting in inappropriate foreclosures, especially “while a servicer is working with a borrower during the HAF application process or waiting for payment of HAF funds.”

You can seek housing counseling or legal help in applying for HAF funds. Housing counselors can also help you apply for a home loan modification. Search for a HUD-approved housing counselor in your area here.

If you’re not eligible for HAF funds because your income is too high, you may still be able to modify your monthly mortgage payment. Borrowers who resume their full monthly payments after forbearance may be able to arrange for a “partial claim,” which tacks overdue funds onto the end of the loan, with no additional interest. Housing counselors can help here as well.

Housing debt and flawed credit reports—a recipe for homelessness

By Alegra Howard

The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented hardship to millions of renters and homeowners. Despite national, state and local eviction moratoriums, and months of mortgage forbearance, many families are now at risk of losing their homes. Inaccurate eviction records that make their way onto tenant screening reports, and flawed rental and mortgage delinquencies that hit credit reports, can make it difficult—if not impossible—for families to find housing in the future.

Landlords and property managers use tenant screening reports (and credit reports) to help them reduce the risk of taking on a bad tenant, but the industry is plagued with reporting errors, consumer complaints and accusations of built-in bias. Investigations by the New York Times and others have found that automated tenant screening reports often are filled with flawed, mismatched records that ruin people’s chances of renting. (See Consumer Action News for in-depth information on tenant screening reports.)

In late 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) acknowledged that financial distress caused by inaccurate credit reporting could undermine the nation’s efforts to recover from the pandemic.

Responding to a dismal history of widespread inaccuracies in credit reports, the Bureau recommended changes to reporting industry practices, including corroborating date of birth, Social Security number or address to ensure the information reported is linked to the correct person. The CFPB also issued a warning to landlords and credit reporting agencies of their obligations to accurately report rental and eviction information.

Limiting access to eviction records

Having an eviction listed on your credit record can severely damage your chances of obtaining housing. Many have argued that eviction data should be barred from consumer reports unless the eviction is completed and granted in court. A large percentage of eviction filings never result in an eviction because cases are withdrawn, settled or determined to be unfounded. In practice, this would prohibit eviction filings from haunting tenants on screening reports. (Sometimes eviction filings are used as a scare tactic to threaten tenants into paying back rent.)

Already, some states seal court records if a tenant prevails and a landlord loses in court. For example, California requires that courts expunge or seal eviction filings that don’t result in an eviction, so that landlords can’t access them during the rental application process. (There are exceptions to the law.)

Minnesota tenants can request to have their eviction removed from public view (expunged) when they’ve won the court case or it’s been dismissed.

New Jersey and Oregon have passed laws that allow courts, on a case-by-case basis, to restrict older and pandemic-related evictions to prevent landlords from making automatic eviction-based denials.

Other states are working to pass laws to protect renters from unwarranted eviction reporting, including:

These proposed laws are intended to break the stigma that comes with an eviction filing and help maintain tenants’ access to housing. Nationally, legislators have introduced bills that aim to prevent pandemic-related financial issues from hurting one’s chance at securing housing in the future. The COVID-19 Eviction Consumer Report Fairness Act (HR 1594) and the Keeping Evictions off Credit Reports Act (HR 6862) would require credit reporting agencies to exclude evictions from consumer reports and any information related to evictions or proceedings seeking evictions that occurred from March 13, 2020, up to 120 days after the end of the national pandemic emergency.

Tenants and homeowners can turn to federal Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) to pay back rent and Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) dollars to cover overdue mortgage payments when the delinquency was caused by COVID-related hardships. (For details on both of these programs, scroll up to see our stories on ERA and HAF.) Proposals also have been made to remove pandemic-related housing debt from credit records if it is repaid with ERA or HAF funds.

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