Puerto rico government

Billions of federal rent assistance not spent by local governments

Eight months after the federal government approved billions of dollars to help people pay their rent, more than 50 counties and cities still haven’t spent a single dime.

The figures come from the latest Treasury Department data on the distribution of rent assistance, which Congress first authorized in December 2020.

Congress has set aside an unprecedented $ 46 billion in two separate relief bills to help tenants weather the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of creating a national program to distribute the money, lawmakers have asked state and local governments to distribute the funds.

Of the first $ 25 billion, states and local governments spent only $ 5.1 billion. They paid out $ 1.6 billion in July, a slight improvement from the June total of $ 1.5 billion.About 60 zones had sent $ 0 in federal rent assistance until the end of June, according to a HuffPost analysis. This included New York State, which had $ 801 million, and the Territory of Puerto Rico, which received $ 325 million in relief funds to distribute. While some regions have started their programs, many are still struggling to get help.

New York has now shelled out $ 186 million, while Puerto Rico is still at $ 0.

State and local governments came under pressure from President Joe Biden’s administration, members of Congress and advocacy groups, as well as tenants who began to wonder why they weren’t receiving help . In programs that were operational, applicants often faced confusing administrative requirements.

The Treasury Department is now urging local governments to get rid of excessive paperwork and take tenants on their word that they are facing financial hardship, instead of forcing them to collect documents like court documents, stubs payroll and bank statements.

“The use of self-attestation to document household eligibility clearly speeds up the processing of rental assistance applications,” the department said in a statement on Wednesday.

HuffPost readers: Under threat of eviction and having trouble getting emergency rental assistance? Tell us about it – email [email protected] Please include your phone number if you are ready to be interviewed.

The latest Treasury Department data goes through July, so some areas may have started donating money since then. But other areas have barely started. Jersey City, NJ, for example, didn’t even open its application process until August 17. The city did not specify exactly why it had taken so long to move forward. In response to HuffPost’s inquiries, Kim Wallace-Scalcione, spokesperson for the mayor, said the city was “well within federal guidelines” and had sent other rental aid.

States and communities face a deadline. If they do not use at least 65% of their allocated funds by the end of September, the federal government has the power to take them back. On Wednesday, the Treasury Department said programs that “are unwilling or unable to provide assistance quickly” risked losing their money.

Even with signs of improvement, help is moving slowly. And the longer it takes, the greater the risk of financial hardship – or even eviction – for tenants.

Katie Beavers, 36, had just completed her master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute and launched her music career when the pandemic struck last year.

“I had a funded car, I had a pretty good apartment, I felt like I was fine,” said Beavers, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. “I was starting my career and then it kind of just came to a halt.”

In February, Beavers turned to Texas Rent Relief for help, a process that took days. As elsewhere, the program in Texas requires tenants to gather various documents, such as copies of their rental agreements, late rent notices, court file numbers, and utility bills. If an applicant can’t prove they are already eligible for a needs-based program, they may also have to cough up tax slips or check stubs.

After a month, Beavers said she learned that Texas Rent Relief had changed software and had to resubmit everything. Another month went by without help, and she ended up giving up her car title for a predatory loan to cover rent and the cost of a wisdom tooth extraction.

Then Beavers had a happy surprise: In June, she learned that she had finally been approved for rent assistance, with a lump sum going directly to her landlord, who had filed a separate application. The payment of $ 4,600 covered approximately four months in the future, plus a year of utilities.

“It’s a real bargain,” Beavers said. “I am so grateful that I got it.”

Texas is one of the states that the treasury has highlighted as doing a good job of getting the money out.

The federal government has tried to put in place additional guarantees for tenants. But they are only temporary and can be deleted at any time.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent in counties particularly affected by the delta variant of the coronavirus for 60 days. As COVID-19 cases rise again, this ban is in effect, replacing a broader moratorium that expired at the end of July.

But this policy is also under legal attack. Just a day after the CDC instituted the current moratorium, the Alabama and Georgia branches of the National Association of Realtors filed a petition in federal court to end the ban. So far, a federal judge in Washington, DC, has allowed the moratorium to continue, but real estate groups have appealed the decision and plan to take the case to the Supreme Court. The conservative majority in the court strongly suggested that it was not in favor of a continued federal moratorium on evictions.

Across the country, deportation proceedings are starting to take place. Landlords have lost billions in unpaid rents as millions of tenants who lost income during the pandemic struggled to meet their bills. If eviction protections are lifted and aid continues to be slow, the money could arrive too late.

According to the National Council for Multifamily Housing, 80.2% of apartment households had paid their rent in full or in part by August 6, up almost a percentage point from the same period last year, but down from 81.2% this time in 2019.

This article originally appeared on The HuffPost and has been updated.

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