Keeping Survivors Safe and Housed: American Rescue Plan and Biden Administration Provide Rental Assistance Options

July 30, 2021

The scenario is tragically familiar to all of us who work to end gender-based violence: A survivor of abuse gathers the courage and resources to seek safety, but there is nowhere to turn. Shelters are full. Affordable housing is scarce. And the pandemic has made everything more complicated. Survivors trying to find safe options for themselves and their families can feel trapped, and all too often are faced with homelessness.

Fortunately, there are new resources available that everyone can use to make a difference. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, billions of dollars in federal rental assistance are available to individuals who need help affording housing or who are behind on housing costs, as well as to landlords who have struggled during the pandemic. The Administration is building on a whole-of-government effort and engaging a wide variety of stakeholders to spread awareness of the resources.

We want to share with OVW grantees some specific ways that you can use this assistance to help survivors of gender-based violence.

First, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has launched a new rental assistance finder. Survivors who may be behind on rent can go to ConsumerFinance.gov/RentHelp and input information on their location to find local rental assistance programs in their area and apply for assistance.

Second, state and local programs are taking applications from renters and landlords to distribute money from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance program. Landlords often need to help renters complete the application process, so as an OVW grantee you can work with survivors and their landlords to help them navigate the process.

Many of you are familiar with rental assistance vouchers. The Emergency Housing Voucher (EHV) program is another option available through the American Rescue Plan. Through EHV, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is providing 70,000 housing choice vouchers to local public housing authorities in order to assist individuals and families who are: homeless; at risk of homelessness; fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking; or were recently homeless or have a high risk of housing instability.

We encourage our state and local partners to become familiar with HUD’s EHV program and work with your local public housing authorities to access vouchers for survivors:

For our grantees in state and local government or who work with courts, there are unique steps you can take to help survivors access these resources to stay in their homes, all while protecting landlords’ rights. Last month, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta wrote to state court administrators and chief justices to “encourage [them] to consider eviction diversion strategies that can help families avoid the disruption and damage that evictions cause and point to federal resources that can help courts navigate this crisis.”

She continued: “Simply providing additional time to forestall evictions will make a critical difference. Congress has appropriated approximately $46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance, which is being distributed to states, counties, cities, and tribes to keep families in their homes.”

Associate Attorney General Gupta described some of the steps that courts can take to raise awareness of rental assistance and allow litigants additional time to obtain these funds:

  • Require landlords to apply for rental assistance before filing for eviction for nonpayment of rent. Many landlords may not be aware that they are eligible for the $46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance Congress has appropriated.
  • Extend time in pending cases to allow litigants time to apply for rental assistance.
  • Modify summonses and other form filings to alert litigants to the availability of eviction diversion programs and rental assistance and encourage them to apply.
  • Partner with Community-Based Organizations and Legal Services Providers to raise awareness about the availability of rental assistance funds.
  • Build more robust eviction diversion programs. Such programs could include a combination of rental assistance, mediation, social services, and legal assistance.

As the White House fact sheet explains, the combined commitments launched this week have the potential to help millions of Americans. All of us can help survivors and service providers connect with these resources by sharing the ConsumerFinance.gov/RentHelp link.

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Updated July 30, 2021