Ted S. Warren/AP Photo
A pedestrian walks past graffiti that reads "Rent Strike" in this April 1, 2020 file photo.
Ted S. Warren/AP Photo
Two months after the coronavirus pandemic plunged the D.C. area into an economic deep freeze, many out-of-work Washingtonians have no idea how they're going to pay the rent.
Expanded unemployment benefits are set to expire at the end of July, unless a divided Congress votes to extend them. Local and state governments are facing vast revenue shortfalls that weaken their ability to respond to the crisis.
Without sweeping relief from banks and the federal government, landlords will still be on the hook for mortgage payments. Temporary holds on eviction proceedings, while helpful, will inevitably expire. And despite calls to "cancel the rent" from tenant advocates, no jurisdiction in the country has proven willing — or even able — to authorize wholesale rent forgiveness.
What does this mean for struggling renters? They're forced to find money where they can.
This guide from WAMU's Affordability Desk intends to help connect renters to some of that money. We've been tracking announcements from local and state governments about new and existing public resources to assist renters facing financial hardship due to COVID-19.
Many of these programs are available only to low-income residents or seniors and people with disabilities. But for those eligible, public assistance could determine whether they have a home in the months ahead.
The District has temporarily frozen rent increases and evictions, and recent legislation requires all residential landlords to offer alternative rent payment plans to tenants who can demonstrate they're experiencing income loss due to COVID-19. But for low-income residents facing immediate financial hardship, the city also offers a limited amount of direct financial assistance through two programs.
- Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). The District's primary rental assistance fund has been chronically underfunded, according to the left-leaning D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. But it's still a valuable source of emergency rent support for low-income Washingtonians who are at risk of eviction. Applicants must have incomes below 125% of the monthly federal poverty level, which is $2,729 for a household of four or $1,796 for a two-person household. Residents can apply through several different organizations, listed here.
- Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program. Administered by D.C.'s Department of Housing and Community Development, this is a new pot of money available to tenants in D.C.'s affordable housing communities. The amount of assistance depends on the renter's income and the number of bedrooms in their unit. Residents must apply for funding through Housing Counseling Services or the Latino Economic Development Center.
The state and several local jurisdictions have taken steps to keep renters in their homes during the crisis. Evictions are temporarily paused statewide, and Montgomery County recently capped rent increases at 2.6% for the duration of the crisis and 90 days afterward. There is also some cash assistance for residents who meet certain criteria, depending on where they live.
- Maryland continues to offer its Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) and Emergency Assistance for Families With Children (EAFC) program to low-income families in need. Applications for TCA are available online through the state's myDHR portal, and residents can apply for EAFC through their local human services office.
- Montgomery County renters who meet certain criteria can apply for funds through the county's new COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program (starting June 1), the Emergency Assistance Relief Payment program (currently accepting applications) or the COVID-19 Rental Relief Program. Each program has different eligibility standards and requirements. The latter two programs are overseen by the county's Department of Health and Human Services, and applicants can get information by calling 311. The COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program (more information here) is administered by the Housing Opportunities Commission and the county's Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
- Prince George's County recently announced the new COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Applications closed quickly due to "overwhelming response," the county says, but they may reopen.
- The City of Takoma Park maintains an Emergency Assistance Fund to help low- to moderate-income city residents pay for rent, utilities, food and prescriptions. Applications are available through Ministries United Silver Spring Takoma Park.
- Howard County recently approved $800,000 in local funds for rental assistance and eviction relief for low- and moderate-income residents, in addition to $770,000 in federal funds that the county plans to put toward rent relief. The money can be used to cover up to three months' rent, and it's expected to be available for residents earning up to 80% of the county's median family income (about $94,000 for a family of four) who have lost income due to COVID-19. But the county has yet to select a nonprofit partner to distribute the funds. Officials say that information should be posted online by mid-June.
Evictions are already ratcheting back up in parts of Virginia — something tenant advocates are trying to halt. In the meantime, residents who can't make the rent may find relief from one of the following government sources.
- Arlington County offers housing grants to income-qualified Arlingtonians who are either working and have at least one minor child, are at least 65 years old, participate in a county behavioral health care program or have a permanent disability. Eligibility requirements are spelled out on the county's website, and applications are available online.
- Arlington's Community Assistance Bureau provides a range of support for residents in need, including cash assistance for rent, utilities and other essentials. Residents can determine their eligibility through the state's CommonHelp portal or by calling CAB directly at 703-228-1350. The office works with Arlington Thrive, a nonprofit that the county awarded federal funding to help residents pay rent.
- Fairfax County's office of Coordinated Services Planning (CSP) links residents to specialists who connect them with services. The county and its partner nonprofits granted almost $700,000 in rental assistance between March 1 and May 22, according to a spokesperson for Fairfax County's Neighborhood and Community Services, and an additional $20 million in federal funding is on its way to provide further help.
- The City of Alexandria has a new COVID-19 Emergency Rent Relief Assistance Program funded by the federal CARES Act. The program directly pays landlords $600 a month up to three months. The first round of applications closes May 29, but those who apply after that date may still qualify for funding later.
- The City of Falls Church provides rent assistance to seniors and people with disabilities. Income and asset restrictions apply. More information is on the city's Housing and Human Services department website.
- Loudoun County recently announced a new Limited Rent Assistance program for county residents affected by COVID-19. Income restrictions apply, and payments are made directly to the landlord or property management company.
Is there a government service missing from this list? Please send information to email@example.com.