Biden expedites $21.6bn in rental assistance to help stop people who lost jobs in pandemic being evicted

US has allocated billions towards rental assistance during the Covid crisis, but little has actually reached tenants

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Saturday 08 May 2021 20:26
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<p>Members of the Los Angeles Tenants Union protest against evictions and give out food for the homeless on February 8, 2021 in Hollywood, California. </p>

Members of the Los Angeles Tenants Union protest against evictions and give out food for the homeless on February 8, 2021 in Hollywood, California.

The Biden administration is tweaking Covid aid rules to speed up delivery of $21.6 billion in rental assistance to tenants, after the programme’s initial rollout in March faced criticism that money was taking too long to arrive to those in dire need.

On Friday, the Treasury Department announced new rules in the hopes of reaching more of the one in seven people in the US who are reporting they’re currently behind on rent.

“We need to make sure that as we implement these emergency funds that we are nimble enough to address growing needs,” Gene Sperling, the White House coronavirus aid coordinator, told reporters. “Basic housing security is fundamental to the dignity of all Americans.”

The rule changes affect portions of the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package passed in March, and the previous $900 billion bill from December. Together, they affect more than $46.5 billion in rental-assistance funds.

The new changes include offering funds directly to renters if landlords elect not to join in relief programmes, reducing wait periods, clarifying that funds can go to those already using government-subsidised housing, and requiring the state and local programs administering the funds to show they’re reaching the neediest tenants.

“Wow, this is huge,” Christina Rosales, the deputy director of Texas Housers, told The New York Times. “I think this will mean more tenants get the help they need.”

The housing situation across the country is dire. In late April, nearly 7 million people reported being behind on rent, cumulatively owing between 8 and 53 billion to landlords, and nearly half of those individuals behind on payments worried about being evicted in the next two months.

On Wednesday, a federal court struck down a CDC eviction ban that was set to expire in June, though the federal government is seeking an appeal.

The Biden and Trump administration’s housing relief efforts have come under fire for being too slow. Nearly 400 different state and local governments were put in charge of formulating housing relief delivery programmes, and many have been slow to authorise such efforts of distribute funds.

California, which got $1.5 billion in federal funds, only opened its programme in March and has awarded around 5 percent of its allocation.

Other slowdowns have occurred because of software glitches, lack of awareness among tenants, and uncooperative landlords.

Even when the CDC eviction moratorium was in place, it was unevenly enforced and subject to wide exceptions.

Cumulatively, the eviction crisis has been even worse for Black and brown families, who are more likely than white families to lose their homes.

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