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What is a rent assistance program?
Nonprofit, state and federal rent-assistance programs
Many non-profit agencies, faith-based organizations and government programs provide one-time emergency grants to help cover rent before you get too far behind and become at risk for eviction. Typically, rent assistance grants range between $750 and $1200. And because they’re a grant and not a loan, you don’t have to pay them back. This can give you the buffer you need to get back on track in the short term. If you need longer-term help, the federal government offers subsidized housing and voucher programs. (More on that later.)
Community nonprofit organizations that help pay rent
Local nonprofit groups like 211.org (a nationwide program provided by United Way), Modest Needs, and county-by-county veterans’ assistance programs can connect you to rent resources and grant money. Each nonprofit will have its own criteria. Some are available only if you live just above the poverty line. Or certain groups — like veterans, teachers or first responders — can apply. Some programs provide ongoing help. Others offer one-time, emergency grants only. (Use the search bar at the top of the page to find out what’s available in your area.)
Faith-based organizations that help pay rent
Many faith-based organizations offer financial assistance to cover rent and other living expenses. Usually, this assistance is available to members of the community, not just to members of their congregation. They rarely turn someone away who’s struggling. Many faith-based organizations also provide job preparation services, immigrant support, parenting education and counseling. They also tend to be pretty well-versed in government programs and can help connect you to additional services. In addition to what might be available locally, a number of larger faith-based organizations have a national presence and programs:
Jewish Federation of North America
Lutheran Social Services
St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church
The Salvation Army
United Methodist Church
State and city governments that help pay rent
All states and most city governments have assistance programs. These are designed to help you pay rent, utilities, security deposits, storage fees and other housing expenses. Their goal is to reduce homelessness in the community and provide grants for struggling renters within a specific county, city or town.
Most state and city rent-assistance programs will require that you have a job or a source of income to pay rent, as their grants are intended for one-time emergency support. Some programs will also work with you to create a budget or set goals to help stabilize your housing. You can start by contacting 211.org for a referral or your state housing financing agency.
Federal government programs that help pay rent
If you need longer-term rent support or help, you’ll want to start exploring a government-subsidized or voucher program. These programs tend to be most focused on supporting struggling seniors, people with disabilities, veterans and working families. The trick here is also that there’s limited funding. Not everyone gets the help they need — only one in four households who need help actually get it — so get familiar with “HUD” requirements and be persistent.
Who gets Federal Rent Assistance?
|Seniors||People with disabilities||Families with children|
What is HUD and what programs do they offer?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides ongoing rent assistance by funneling money to state and local public agencies. The intent and design of their programs vary quite a bit. Here are the most common and some important details about eligibility and timing.
Public housing is a federally subsidized type of rental property. Depending on where you live, it may be an apartment complex, a series of duplex houses or a cluster of private homes. The rentals are managed by local housing authorities and they determine how much you pay in rent according to HUD guidelines — at least $25, and at most 30% of your monthly income. To apply, contact a public housing agency.
Privately-owned subsidized housing
If you can’t afford to wait for government-run subsidized housing, explore the privately-owned route. These housing complexes, also known as “mixed-income housing,” are owned by private landlords and property management companies. In exchange for a tax credit, they’re required to offer at least some of their apartments at a reduced rate to low-income families. They look similar to any large apartment complex. How much rent you pay depends upon various factors — generally, the less you earn, the less you pay. Some landlords offer a flat reduced rate for anyone who qualifies, while other landlords base your rent on your monthly income. Search for an apartment and apply directly to the management office.
Rent Payment Assistance — Section 8
The Housing Voucher Program, also known as Section 8, is a bit different from subsidized housing and gives you more freedom where you can live. Under this program, you receive a voucher that you can use to rent from private landlords and apartment properties — anyone on the Housing Voucher Program’s list of approved landlords.
With Section 8, you pay a portion of your rent, about 30% of your monthly income, and your local public housing authority will pay the remainder (up to a certain amount based on market rent rates). To apply, contact a public housing agency.
Eligibility and wait times
To qualify for the Section 8 program, you cannot make more than 50 percent of your area’s median income. For public housing, your income cannot surpass 80 percent of the median.
In both cases, preference is given to the homeless, people living in substandard housing and households that spend more than half of their income on rent. Once you apply and are qualified, you’re added to a waitlist. In some areas, it takes more than a year to get housing. In areas with significant waitlists, it can take significantly longer.
How rent help programs work
Struggling with rent and housing is stressful, and unfortunately, getting help takes time. Fortunately, many faith-based, nonprofits and government organizations require similar types of documentation and the application processes tend to follow a similar path. So once you apply for one, the next application should get a little easier and faster. Here’s what to do and expect:
1. Figure out which programs you’re eligible for
Read through each program’s criteria as you may be more likely to qualify for one program than you are for another.
2. Gather your application materials
Most programs require a bunch of information so they can evaluate your situation and level of need. This typically includes financial, current housing information and some type of explanation:
- Personal statement. Write down what you’re asking for and why. For example, “I need $500 for this month’s rent. I lost my job last month but I’m starting a new job in two weeks.”
- Copy of your lease
- Copy of your eviction notice
- Proof of financial hardship — change of employment status, illness, divorce
- Government-issued photo identification
- Social Security Number
3. Register with the organization and apply
Have a solid hour set aside to carefully enter the details of your application. Many nonprofits won’t begin reviewing the application until all the required documents have been submitted.
4. Follow up with the agency to ask about your status
Some offer online status. Others you may need to call if you have not heard back within a few business days. Typically, each organization will provide you with guidance for response and how long the grant takes to get funded.
5. Be politely persistent.
It can be hard to ask for help, and the process can be long and frustrating. Be organized and politely persistent to get the help you need.
If you need help right now and are at risk of homelessness
If you’re about to become evicted or on the verge homelessness, contact a local support agency through the HUD exchange. Also consider calling the Legal Aid Society to help you get a payment extension, find a new home or have an eviction blocked altogether. The Legal Aid society gives you free professional help. It’s an independent nonprofit legal service provided by the government to help low-income families and individuals with eviction and other civil matters.
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