Rental aid fell victim to politics, bureaucracy

Before the pandemic hit, Jacqueline Bartley, a mother of two girls and a boy, led a comfortable life. Then the 41-year-old lost his job at American Airlines, quickly spent his savings and found himself months behind on the $1,350-a-month home he rented. Till then he had never missed paying the rent.

Bartley, of Durham, North Carolina, turned to the state’s rental assistance program and was relieved in January that he had been awarded $8,100. But she says her landlord refused the money because she refused their request to modify the two-year lease to a shorter term. Under this program landlords were required to honor leases, among other conditions, in order to receive money.

He turned to another program launched by the state this month and was re-approved. Last week, she learned that her landlord had accepted nearly $20,000 for past rent and three months’ future payments, and agreed to dismiss her eviction lawsuit.

The news means he will not be forced from his home after the federal eviction moratorium ends on July 31. But waiting and uncertainty meant months of stress.

“It’s especially crazy when you have kids at school,” Bartley said. “It’s going pretty much on a whim. Okay, do I have to go somewhere every month?”

After Congress passed the comprehensive CARES Act in March 2020, millions have found themselves in situations similar to Bartley’s, despite bold promises by governors to help renters.

Nationwide, state leaders set aside at least $2.6 billion from the CARES Act’s coronavirus relief fund to support struggling renters, but a year later more than $425 million – or 16% – put it into tenants or their pockets. was not created. According to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press, the landlord.

“It’s mind-boggling,” said Anne Kat Alexander, project manager at Princeton University’s Aviation Lab. “I knew there were problems, but it’s a huge amount that doesn’t have to be delivered on time.”

The federal government provided states with tens of billions of dollars in additional rental aid in 2021, but disbursement has also been delayed.

With the first round of funding in 2020, bureaucracy was not the only problem. Politics also played a role, with a handful of states, many led by Republicans and with a history of weak tenant protections, offered little to no aid.

Then, there was the often arduous application process and the year-end federal deadline for spending the money so late that some states had already pulled money to use on other expenses. Some landlords refused to participate in the sanctions, which meant they could not evict a tenant who was left behind again after aiding.

Congress’s comprehensive 2020 CARES Act sent billions of dollars to states and some local governments. But it did not mandate that any money be spent on rental assistance, leaving it to the states to create their own programs and set the rules.

Georgia, West Virginia and Tennessee, which are all run by Republican governors, decided not to establish statewide programs in 2020, despite higher than average historical eviction rates, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s database of rent relief programs in 2020. Selected option. South Carolina allocated less than $14 per tenant-occupied home that year.

Several states were praised for their well-run programmes. Illinois, Indiana, Oregon and Washington state were among more than a dozen people reported to have disbursed every dollar of rental aid set aside from the Coronavirus Relief Fund as of March 31.

The Center for Public Integrity surveyed nearly 70 state and local agencies that the National Low Income Housing Coalition identified as setting aside coronavirus relief fund money to help with rents in 2020. COVID-19-related expenses, such as protective equipment, salaries of police officers, and small-business loans.

Some states spent millions of dollars setting up their programs, including North Carolina, which allocated about $20 million on administrative costs, and Hawaii, which spent $8 million. In the case of Hawaii, a lot of it went to helping nonprofits grow and rent space. The state also spent money on a software system in an effort to prevent fraud.

Diane Yantel, executive director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said last year’s funding challenges had set Congress off about $47 billion specifically for emergency rental assistance in December and March.

“Some states and cities channeled some of those funds to create eviction prevention and emergency rental assistance programs,” said Yantel, whose group oversees the programs. “But many didn’t or many didn’t put aside enough.”

One of the biggest challenges was the failure of the states to spend their allocated funds.

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency received $150 million to help renters, but returned nearly $96 million to the state treasury, leaving a hole in the state’s public safety budget. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation earmarked $250 million, but returned approximately $99 million to the state treasury to be spent on other programs. Eighty percent of Montana’s $50 million set aside for rent aid went back to the state. New York spent only $47.5 million of the $100 million promised in rental assistance.

In Athens, Georgia, Dylan Price said she received about $5,800 in rental assistance, but it expired earlier this year and fears she may lose her home when her lease is expected to expire on Wednesday. Should give.

She worries about being in a homeless shelter once again with her 14-year-old son.

“It’s a very disturbing and uncomfortable situation,” Price said.


Casey reported from Boston, Kleiner from Washington, DC and Johnston reported from Brooke Park, Ohio. Casey can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter at @mcasey1. Kleiner can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @bysarahkleiner.


This story is a collaboration between The Associated Press and The Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit investigative newsroom in Washington.


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