Federal efforts to help renters cover their monthly payments have largely failed, as theTreasury Department reports just $1.7 billion of the $46.5 billion rental aid program’s funds have been disbursed, leaving 89 percent untouched.
“About a million payments have now gone out to families — it is starting to help a meaningful number of families,” Gene Sperling, who oversees the operation of federal pandemic relief programs for President Biden, told the New York Times. “It’s just not close to enough in an emergency like this to protect all the families who need and deserve to be protected. So there is still way more to do and to do fast.
The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was created to provide funds to households struggling to pay rent or utilities due to the pandemic. The funds are provided directly to states, U.S. territories and local governments, who then create their own distribution plans to get funds to their constituents. But some states have been slow to begin distribution, largely due to the difficulty of creating a streamlined program that impacts millions of tenants.
More than 11 million Americans are behind on their rent, and an estimated 30-40 million people could be at risk of eviction in the coming months. Some states have had success in their distribution processes, but many others, including New York, Florida, Tennessee, Ohio, and South Carolina, have fallen behind. Those states may see portions of their funding redistributed to states with more effective programs by the end of September.
“We’re going to see what we’ve been managing to stave off: this wave of evictions that is just going to crush some of these areas,” said John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.
Renters aren’t the only people affected by the slow distribution. Smaller landlords who typically provide more affordable housing may also be affected if they can’t make mortgage payments on their rental properties. “The owners and tenants need each other,” said Joanna Wong, a member of the non-profit Small Property Owners of New York. “The owners want tenants to stay in and pay rent, and tenants want to stay in and have a home,” she said. “It stabilizes the whole ecosystem.”