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Rental Assistance: Resources in the United States

Sometimes we are inspired by reference inquiries and current events to write blog posts on a specific topic. In 2020, for example, we published guides about the coronavirus pandemic and resources for individuals facing domestic violence. This post focuses on options for people who are vulnerable to housing insecurity, and lists resources where they may be able to find assistance.

You can find a number of articles online summarizing the current picture of the rental market in the United States, and the increasing costs of renting a home. This issue has been growing for years and has put the most severe strain on households with lower incomes, as outlined in reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Government Accountability Office.

Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) analyzes data and issues related to several related topics, including rental housing. The JCHS report, The State of the Nation’s Housing 2022, provides detailed information about current issues facing renters, including rent surges, trends across the United States, and low vacancy rates. According to a summary of the report’s key facts (pp. 2-3):

Rents grew at a record pace in early 2022. In the professionally managed segment, rents hit a record 11.6 percent growth at the end of 2021 and remained at that pace in the first quarter of 2022 . . . Rents were also increasing year-over-year in all of the nation’s large metro markets in early 2022, growing by double digits in 116 out of 150 metro markets and by more than 20 percent in 25 markets . . .

Many renter households continued to face financial hardship in early 2022, with 20 percent of renters reporting they had lost income in the prior four weeks and 15 percent reporting they were behind on rent. Lower-income renter households and renter households of color were disproportionately likely to fall behind on rent.

Some resources we have suggested to our patrons looking for rental assistance programs include:

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government appropriated approximately $46.55 billion for emergency rental assistance. This funding has been allocated to state and local governments in tranches for distribution to qualifying individuals. You can find information about applying to local rental assistance programs by using some of the resources listed above. Below is an example search to demonstrate methods for finding resources near you.

Beginning with the CFPB’s page about local rental assistance programs, select the state you would like to learn about, and then the local jurisdiction nearest to you.

Screen capture of the CFPB website where visitors can learn about rental assistance programs across the country, with dropdown menus to narrow the search by state and county.

Screen capture of CFPB website.

Click through the program(s) in your area to learn more about the application process, deadlines, and other important information. If you need help with applying to a program, contact the agency that administers the program you are applying for, or use the CFPB’s website to find a housing counselor.

If you or people you know are also interested in learning about programs that assist with utility bills, the Department of Health & Human Services has an interactive website with useful information. Click on the relevant state to see contact information for state agencies that oversee this program at the state level.

Image of interactive map of the United States on Health and Human Services Department website, linking to utility assistance resources

Screen capture of Health & Human Services website.

As you learn more about programs and resources that provide assistance to those in need, be wary of potential scams. A good approach is starting with government resources, or websites that end with “.gov.” Also, stay away from websites that require you to submit a deposit or personal identifiable information to be eligible for their program. You can learn more about telltale signs for scams in articles from the CFPB.

If you follow the above steps and need further assistance, or you are facing eviction, contact a nearby legal aid organization to learn about their services and ask about other nearby resources that may be able to help you. You can locate information about these organizations online by visiting the websites for the Legal Services Corporation and the American Bar Association.

We also suggest visiting the Law Library’s FAQ page, which provides information on related topics including rental assistance programs and landlord-tenant law resources.

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