Uptake and Impact of Emergency Rental Assistance Among HUD-Assisted Households
Along with providing rental assistance, the Emergency Rental Assistance program was found to improve renters’ housing stability, financial well-being, and mental health. Photo credit: shutterstock.com/Lindasj22
Aaron Shroyer and Veronica Helms Garrison
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program is a first-of-its-kind program, providing historic levels of assistance that have enabled vulnerable households to pay their rent and remain housed. Estimates using the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (HPS), an innovative national survey that allows HUD to track housing needs in real time, suggest that approximately 700,000 HUD-assisted households self-reported receiving ERA between August 2021 and June 2022. In this post we analyze the impact of ERA receipt on the housing stability of HUD-assisted households.
State, local, territory, and Tribal ERA grantees have expended more than $33 billion and made more than 7 million unique household payments as of the end of July 2022. Grantees have spent more than $500 million from ERA on housing stability services such as eviction diversion and right-to-counsel programs. Data indicate that the money is going to households that are most at risk of housing instability. More than 80% of ERA assistance delivered in 2021 went to very low-income households — those earning up to 50 percent of the area median income. In the fourth quarter of 2021, more than 40 percent of all primary applicants receiving assistance self-identified as Black and more than 20 percent self-identified as Latino, and female-headed households made up nearly two-thirds of ERA beneficiaries.
According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, the financial effects of the pandemic put at least twice as many renters at risk of eviction compared with historical averages. Rather than spiking, however, eviction filings in 2021 fell to approximately half of their prepandemic levels. At a recent White House event, Professor Matthew Desmond of Princeton University called ERA and the national eviction moratorium “the most important eviction prevention program in U.S. history” and cited them as the primary reasons that eviction filings remained low. Although the principal purpose of ERA is to provide rental assistance, past research based on HPS data also found that ERA receipt improved renters’ housing stability, financial well-being, and mental health. Households receiving ERA are much less likely to be behind on rent, borrow from friends or family, experience food insecurity, or report poor mental health.
Previous research suggests that permanent housing subsidy programs promote stability by lowering the cost of rent and allowing households to adjust their rent obligations as payments fall. However, subsidized households often have higher rates of nonpayment because their incomes are very low and derive from inconsistent sources, which puts them at risk of housing instability and eviction. ERA, combined with the layered safety net provided by the fixed incomes of many HUD-assisted tenants, helped households avoid housing precarity during the pandemic.
Using the U.S. Census Bureau’s Integrated Research Environment, analysts in HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) linked HPS data with administrative data on HUD’s three largest rental assistance program categories — public housing, housing choice vouchers, and multifamily assisted housing — to allow researchers to examine the impact of ERA on HUD-assisted households. At the time of ERA’s rollout, approximately 25 percent of HUD-assisted households reported being behind on rental payments, and approximately 12 percent reported experiencing the fear of imminent eviction. During and after the rollout of the ERA program, self-reported housing insecurity among HUD-assisted households notably decreased. From August 2021 to June 2022, approximately 19 percent of HUD-assisted households reported being behind on rental payments, and 8 percent reported experiencing the fear of imminent eviction (figure 1). Because of methodological limitations, these findings cannot definitively suggest a causal relationship between housing insecurity and receipt of ERA among HUD-assisted households. Notably, this analysis did not adjust for broader forces such as economic recovery status, widespread COVID-19 variant outbreaks, and local housing market conditions. Despite these limitations, these unadjusted estimates still suggest a swift decrease in housing insecurity among HUD-assisted households that temporally aligns with ERA implementation.
Findings from the HUD-HPS linked data also suggest that during the COVID-19 pandemic, HUD-assisted households faced lower rates of housing insecurity and reported higher rates of ERA uptake than did low-income renters in general. This analysis defines “low-income renter households” as households that self-reported renting their home and having a mean annual income of less than $25,000. From August 2021 to June 2022, approximately 19 percent of HUD-assisted households reported being behind on their rental payments, and 8 percent reported experiencing the fear of imminent eviction (figure 1). Among all U.S. low-income renters during the same period, 21 percent reported being behind on their rental payments, and 11 percent reported experiencing the fear of imminent eviction.
Findings show that HUD-assisted tenants self-reported higher rates of ERA application and receipt than did low-income renters in general (figure 2). Approximately 15 percent of HUD-assisted households reported ERA application and receipt compared with approximately 10 percent of low-income renters in general. HUD-assisted households also reported lower rates of ERA applications that were denied than did low-income renters in general.
PD&R recognizes the importance of the ERA program and will continue to research its short-term and long-term impacts. For example, HUD plans to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of ERA to better understand housing stability outcomes. To support that evaluation as well as other research, PD&R is currently collaborating with U.S. Department of the Treasury to link ERA administrative data with HUD administrative data to better understand uptake of ERA among HUD-assisted households. Although HPS estimates provide a good starting point for analysis, they likely underrepresent the number of HUD-assisted households participating in the ERA program.
HUD took several complementary actions to keep people housed that likely improved the housing stability of HUD-assisted tenants. HUD allowed assisted tenants who might have lost income to self-certify for annual or interim recertifications, which lowered their monthly rent obligations. HUD also issued a rule prohibiting the eviction of tenants for nonpayment of rent from HUD-subsidized public housing and certain properties with project-based rental assistance without providing 30 days’ notice and information about available federal emergency rental assistance.
Data from the HUD-HPS linked data suggest that receiving ERA improved housing stability for HUD-assisted tenants. Receiving ERA, paired with actions HUD took, enabled households to avoid the dislocation and economic scarring associated with housing instability. As ERA resources dwindle nationally, HUD will continue to partner with other federal agencies, as well as other levels of government and HUD grantees, to take actions that keep families housed.
The HPS is designed to quickly capture information about the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on American households. ×
Despite the value of the HUD-HPS linked data, they have several limitations. First, HUD-assisted households represent approximately 10 percent of all U.S. renter households. A nationally representative survey should hypothetically capture the same percentage of households in its sample; for this reason, small sample sizes can lead to unstable estimates when analyzing HUD-HPS linked data. To counteract this limitation, multiple data collection periods, called weeks, must be stacked to ensure an adequate sample size. Second, using the HPS data involves a constant tradeoff between leveraging the timeliness of the survey’s ability to capture housing needs and challenges in roughly real time with needing the stack multiple data collection periods to ensure stable estimates. Third, there is a temporal alignment issue; HUD 2021 administrative data were linked with data from approximately the same period, but the dates do not align exactly. Finally, HPS limitations that the U.S. Census Bureau previously highlighted in its technical documentation also apply to the HUD-HPS linked data. ×
Although ERA1 assistance rolled out in January 2021, this window (November 2020 to March 2021) was selected to approximate housing insecurity status among HPS respondents around the formal rollout period. This extended period also ensures an adequate sample size for stable estimates. In addition, the question regarding receipt of self-reported ERA was not added to the HPS until Week 35 of the data collection period. ×
These estimates likely underrepresent the discrepancy between low-income renters as a group and HUD-assisted renters because HPS respondents self-report income categorically, and the lowest income category in the HPS is households earning less than $25,000 annually. However, the mean annual income for a HUD-assisted household is approximately $16,000, meaning that the low-income renter group in the HPS represents a higher-income population than the HUD-assisted households. Despite this income gap, HUD-assisted households still faced lower rates of housing insecurity. ×