Designing a Program with Racial Equity Goals
The ERAP tool can help program administrators effectively prioritize assistance to households with the highest risk of housing instability, most often Black, Indigenous, and Latinx households. Oregon’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program prioritizes rental assistance to households using four criteria, one being that the household resides in a census tract with a high prevalence of low-income renters at risk of experiencing housing instability and homelessness from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This criterion is based on data from the ERAP tool.
Below, we present factors that program administrators could consider in addition to the geographic targeting the ERAP tool offers, to ensure that emergency rental assistance reaches the local households most adversely affected by the pandemic.
- Do you plan to prioritize assistance to households based on their risk of housing instability (in addition to the income and unemployment factors required by the US Treasury)?
- Have you explored pairing ERAP tool data with other local data sources?
- Prior admissions to shelter
- Current eviction filings
- Local data on unemployment or other public assistance filings
- COVID-19 infection and morbidity rates
Designing the application process
- Is the application accessible to read—that is, written in simple language and easy to fill out?
- Is the application available in different languages?
- Does your program have low barriers to self-certification of income loss or financial hardship to allow recipients with jobs in the informal economy to access rental assistance?
- Does your program allow self-certification to document rent owed?
- Does your program allow self-certification to document the risk of experiencing homelessness and housing instability?
- Can the application be submitted through multiple venues to account for gaps in digital literacy—for example, by phone, online, on paper, through a trusted partner organization, and/or by app?
- Are there physically accessible and COVID-19-safe locations where case workers, community-based actors, or culturally specific organizations can help people complete applications for rental assistance?
- Is your rental assistance program partnering with key community-based actors or culturally and linguistically specific organizations to identify people in need of assistance and help them with the application process?
- Did you use the ERAP tool or other local data to identify neighborhoods in which to set up sites?
- Are your sites in areas easily accessed by the public?
Reaching undocumented, mixed-status, and other households sometimes excluded from assistance
- Are organizations trusted by people who are undocumented, and other people who fear that acquiring federal assistance might put their citizenship or immigration status in jeopardy, partners in program design and implementation?
- Is your program open to undocumented or mixed-status households?
- Is your application designed with undocumented and mixed-status families in mind? Does the documentation you require inadvertently preclude undocumented or mixed-status households (for example, requests for Social Security cards or government-issued IDs)?
- Does your program explicitly debunk myths about eligibility and immigration consequences of program participation and state the legal rights undocumented or mixed-status families have to access federal emergency rental assistance? Does your staff understand these details?
- Can organizations that serve immigrant and refugee households and/or households of color submit applications directly to your program on their clients’ behalf?
- Does your program offer culturally and linguistically competent housing navigation or other financial support for relocation, security deposits, utilities, several months’ rent, or transitional hotel stays to help people currently experiencing homelessness find housing?
Disseminating rental assistance
- Is your program providing tenants with direct payments if their landlord does not wish to participate in your program or cannot be reached (or has been given the requisite notice under program guidelines)?
- Is your program considering long-term housing stability when administering emergency rental assistance?
- Can you ensure that all rental debt (fees, charges, or any other expenses tenants accrued during the arrears period) is cleared through payment or by negotiating with landlords to lower rental debt in exchange for future rent payments?
- Can you ensure that assistance includes other financial support, such as payment for utilities and utility arrears, as well as any fees, charges, or other expenses on the tenants’ account?
- Before rental assistance became available, tenants may have incurred debts so they could pay rent, by taking on payday loans or loans from friends or family or by deferring other bills. These debts are not reimbursable with emergency rental assistance funding from the Treasury but affect a household’s financial health. Given this reality, can you offer applicants complementary services—such as financial health counseling, legal assistance, referrals to longer-term housing assistance, and other forms of assistance such as food, transportation, or medical assistance—to promote long-term housing and financial stability?
- Is it possible to implement a building- or buildings-wide strategy to determine household eligibility and to bundle, in a single payment, rental debt or future rent for many tenants at once?
Are you braiding other available state and local funds to boost program capacity?
Employing landlord-tenant mitigation strategies
- Does your program offer housing navigation or other financial support for relocation, security deposits, utilities, several months’ rent, or transitional hotel stays to help renters who must relocate despite rental debt being paid? Services should be prioritized to the renter households most likely to be discriminated against and to face barriers to re-lease in the private market.
- Is your program enforcing the federal requirement that prevents evictions of renters for nonpayment in the month the rental assistance is received?
- Has your program added an additional requirement that a landlord may not evict for nonpayment of rent for up to 90 days longer than the period covered by emergency rental assistance?
- Has your program considered an additional requirement that a landlord must renew or extend the lease for a certain period of time?
Defining roles for partner organizations
- Have you intentionally targeted community-based or culturally specific organizations already embedded in the priority neighborhoods identified by the ERAP tool or other local data?
- Are you considering multiple roles for partner organizations, depending on your community context?
- Outreach only: organizations that help spread the word, can help translate material and get information into ERAP-identified communities, but may or may not be able to directly refer people to your program.
- Outreach plus application support: organizations that help with outreach, can refer applicants to your program, and can assist them in meeting application and documentation requirements.
- Outreach plus administration: organizations that help with outreach and application support and can directly disburse funds.
- Have you simplified contracting requirements to allow smaller, community-based, or culturally specific organizations to effectively partner with your program?
- Have you streamlined reimbursement processes that compensate smaller community-based or culturally specific organizations so they are not at risk of financial hardship? For example, you could consider providing a share of your emergency rental assistance contract up front to ensure the community organization has working capital.