Even though the ailing home ownership market has grabbed most of the headlines since 2008, there is also a less-discussed epidemic of renters who are finding themselves in need of assistance due to factors such as unemployment or cutbacks in wages and benefits. Fortunately, there are several federal, state and local programs around the country that are available to help give renters a roof over their heads while they are going through tough financial times.
HUD Housing Assistance Payments Program
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created the Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) program as a rent subsidy to help eligible low-income families obtain safe, sanitary housing. HAP contains a number of sub-programs as well that are designed to reflect various types of housing, including newly constructed buildings, those that have undergone moderate rehabilitation, and those that have undergone substantial rehabilitation. In order to be considered eligible for the program, families must have an income no higher than 80 percent of the area median. In addition, the rent itself must be within the fair market value for the area and type of housing, and the renter must keep the premises in safe, decent condition. The rent subsidy, which is assessed on a case-by-case basis, is issued directly to the property owner from HUD or from a public housing authority that administers the program for HUD.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th St. S.W.
Washington, DC 20410
USDA Rural Development
The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the Housing and Community Facilities Programs (HCFP), which provides rental assistance that can be used for both new and existing rural rental housing or farm labor housing. Eligible persons include low- or very-low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities who are unable to pay their basic monthly rent if that rent exceeds 30 percent of their adjusted monthly income. Low income is defined as being between 50 and 80 percent of the area median, while very low income is defined as less than 50 percent. HCFP pays the owner of the housing complex directly, which is calculated as the difference between the tenant's contribution (i.e., 30 percent of their adjusted income) and the monthly rental rate. In addition, the property owner usually initiates the request for the subsidy, although tenants can petition the borrower to obtain the subsidy for them.
Housing and Community Facilities Programs National Office
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Room 5014, South Building
14th St. and Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20250
Emergency Rent Assistance Program (Washington, D.C.)
Because of the high demand for rental assistance in Washington, D.C., area residents are eligible for the Emergency Rent Assistance Program (ERAP), which is administered through several different community-based organizations including Housing Counseling Services (HCS). It is designed only to pay back rent when eviction is imminent,as well as first month's rent and security deposits needed to prevent a household from becoming homeless or to prevent a family from becoming separated. ERAP does not assist with utilities or mortgage payments. In addition, eligible households must include at least one child under the age of 19, an adult over the age of 59, or a person with a medical disability. There are also limits on the amount ERAP can pay per household, which is typically five months of back rent or a total of $4,250, while security deposits and first month's rent are limited to $900. Other localities around the country, including New York City, offer emergency rental assistance.
Housing Counseling Services
2410 17th St. NW, Suite 100
Washington, DC 20009