Building Racial Equity into Emergency Rental Assistance Programs: An Equity Checklist for Program Administrators

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the disproportionate housing stability challenges faced by Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people, and its health and economic effects made those disparities even worse. State and local governments are now distributing the almost $47 billion in emergency rental assistance made available through federal relief efforts. Targeting the renters most affected and most vulnerable, predominantly renters of color, will be critical to ensuring assistance reaches the people who need it most.

This checklist, a companion to our Emergency Rental Assistance Priority (ERAP) Index tool, is designed to help state and local administrators implementing emergency rental assistance programs. Assistance programs can more effectively target households at the highest risk of housing instability by prioritizing racial equity in program design and implementation.

Why racial equity is critical to emergency rental assistance program design

Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities have experienced the highest COVID-19 infection and death rates, the most severe pandemic-related job and wage losses, and the highest levels of food and housing insecurity. This is not a coincidence; racist policies and systemic discrimination, which began generations ago and remain persistent today, have created inequitable outcomes for people of color across a myriad of issues, including housing and health.

Even before the pandemic, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous renters faced higher rates of housing instability and homelessness. COVID-19 exacerbated those challenges, and the income and job loss experienced by renters of color during the crisis has cascaded into financial hardships that have left them facing significant rent burdens and eviction risks. Many renters of color continue to struggle to maintain steady incomes, and their past rent payments keep piling up.

Stable housing has been proven to lower the rate of COVID-19 infection and death. With the national eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of July 2021 and most state and local eviction moratoriums already expired, it is more critical than ever that state and local governments and their community partners equitably and effectively disburse the remaining emergency rental assistance funds.

How to use the equity checklist and the Emergency Rental Assistance Priority Index tool

This equity checklist can guide emergency rental assistance program designers to prioritize racial equity in three main areas: (1) program structure, (2) outreach and engagement, and (3) data collection and program monitoring. We encourage program administrators and their partners to use this checklist in tandem with our ERAP tool, but they can use the checklist independently as well.

The ERAP tool uses an index score to identify neighborhoods in each state where low-income renters face greater risks of housing instability and homelessness. The score comprises three indexes: the risk of housing instability; the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on jobs and health; and other risk factors, such as the share of households that receive public assistance and the share that earn very low incomes.

Administrators and their partners can use the ERAP tool to inform an equitable COVID-19 response at each stage in the distribution of emergency rental assistance funds. For more information about how we created the ERAP index, see the data dictionary and technical appendix. We encourage program administrators and partners to supplement these data with local, contextualized knowledge and relevant local datasets.

About

This equity checklist was funded by the Schultz Family Foundation. We are grateful to them and to all our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insights and recommendations of Urban experts.

We also thank several emergency rental assistance designers and administrators for their review of a draft version and thoughtful comments: Margaret Salazar and Andrea Bell, Oregon Housing and Community Services; Zach Neumann, COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project; and Nichele Carver, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. 

Authors: Kathryn Reynolds, Jessica Perez, Nicole DuBois, Monique King-Viehland, and Samantha Batko