HUD Won't Help With Back Rent Until Eviction Moratoriums Are Gone

Eviction prevention was an eligible use for CARES Act money...until HUD decided that it's not worth preventing evictions until they are under 14 days away.

February 10, 2021, 11:00 AM PST

By LM_Ortiz


Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock

Laura Felts, executive director of United Tenants of Albany, in Albany, New York, had never seen the level of need for housing assistance that she has since last March. Calls to her organization’s hotline have tripled. In a typical year UTA gives out about $60,000 in rental assistance funds. In 2020, it awarded that amount just between October and November. There is no end to the need in sight.

And yet Felts says she expects things are going to get much worse, thanks to confusion over whether federal homelessness prevention grants can actually be used to help renters while an eviction moratorium is in place.

In March, as part of the CARES Act, Congress allocated $4 billion for Emergency Services Grants (or ESG) to provide for more shelters and prevent homelessness in the wake of the economic destruction wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In September the Centers for Disease Control issued an eviction moratorium whereby renters could fill out a form demonstrating their financial situation and risk of homelessness, present it to their landlords, and theoretically not be evicted for nonpayment of rent.

But evictions due to lack of payment have persisted across the country, whether because tenants don’t know to sign the declaration, courts aren’t checking for it, or judges are agreeing with landlords that the ban is unconstitutional.  

Tracy Pitcher, executive director of St. Paul’s Center, a housing aid organization in Rensselaer, New York, says tenants she works with who report they have lost jobs and are unable to pay are also dealing with landlords who are accusing them of “abusing” this moratorium. “We receive reports that landlords are hostile toward them, are refusing to make needed repairs, are turning off heat, or are locking them out,” she says. “Recently, we have tenants report that their leases are up and their landlords are using that as an opportunity to not renew their leases so they must leave.”

And even if the moratorium were working as intended, the time to help tenants and clear up rent debt would be now, argues Felts, rather than leaving everyone in limbo to hit housing court all at once when the moratorium lifts.

Unfortunately, even though some money at least is there, in the Capital Region of New York, and possibly in other places around in the country, it’s not being used for that purpose.

In November, Felts learned through the local Continuum of Care, the regional group tasked with managing funds to combat homelessness, that HUD was of the opinion that renters facing financial hardship aren’t eligible for the grants until the moratorium expires, because in theory they aren’t in imminent danger of homelessness.

This opinion was relayed to the local CoC and then to Felts piecemeal, through HUD webinars and its AAQ (Ask a Question) help desk, which issues non-legally-binding opinions.

“Due to the CDC Eviction Moratorium, the earliest time that a ‘covered person’ could qualify for Homelessness Prevention under Category 2 of the Homeless Definition due to an eviction action initiated by a landlord or property owner for nonpayment of rent is 14 days prior to [the moratorium’s expiration],” reads part of HUD’s AAQ response.

Asked to clarify whether HUD’s position is that ESG funds can’t be used to pay rent for those who are going to be evicted until the CDC’s moratorium is lifted, HUD’s press office responded: “It is the responsibility of the PHA/Grantee to ensure there is no duplication of benefits.  Determining duplication of benefits is case specific, but in general non-PIH [Public and Indian Housing] funds may be allowable to pay arrearages/prevent homelessness.”

We’ve asked for further clarification specifically about the impact of the moratorium but have yet to hear back.

Felts’s CoC heeded HUD’s AAQ position and isn’t making funds available for ESG grants to prevent evictions. On top of that, HUD has indicated through its AAQ responses that groups could be forced to pay back any ESG funds that were used for that purpose while the moratorium was in effect, dating back to last summer. If so, groups like United Tenants of Albany could be financially devastated.

Groups across the country are trying to sort through the confusion and hoping HUD under the Biden administration will ....

Tuesday, February 2, 2021 in Shelterforce Magazine

Chicago Commute

Planning for Congestion Relief

The third and final installment of Planetizen's examination of the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion.

May 12, 2022 - James Brasuell

Twin Cities

Minneapolis Housing Plan a Success—Not for the Reason You Think

Housing advocates praise the city’s move to eliminate single-family zoning by legalizing triplexes on single-family lots, but that isn’t why housing construction is growing.

May 13, 2022 - Reason

Single-Family Housing Construction

New White House Housing Initiative Includes Zoning Reform Incentives

The Biden administration this morning released a new program of actions intended to spur housing construction around the United States.

May 16, 2022 - The White House

University of Arizona

Proposed Transit Line Would Connect Downtown Tucson to Airport

Based on community input for a 15-mile transit line, residents want to see a focus on affordable housing development and anti-displacement measures.

May 22 - KGUN

Shuttered strip mall in Niland, California

Strip Malls as a Housing Solution

The American strip mall may be a dying breed of commercial development, but could the buildings serve a new use as sustainable housing?

May 22 - Yale Environment 360

Complete Street Vancouver

Study: Most of Vancouver Is a ‘15-Minute City’

A large majority of Vancouver residents can access a grocery store in 15 minutes or less by bicycle or on foot.

May 20 - Vancouver Sun

HUD’s 2022 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Expanding HUD’s Eviction Protection Grant Program

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Updates on The Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.