$425 Million in Rent Relief Never Reached Those in Need

A damning investigation reveals the immense financial resources that states could have spent on rent relief but failed to do so, whether willfully or not.

June 29, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

COVID-19 Eviction Crisis

Steve Heap / Shutterstock

Millions of renters have spent the pandemic "facing possible eviction despite bold promises by governors to help renters after Congress passed the sweeping CARES Act in March 2020," according to an investigative report by Sarah Kleiner, Taylor Johnston, and Michael Casey for the Center for Public Integrity.

The headlining figure of the story: $425 million in promised rental assistance failed to reach the hands of tenants and landlords. "Nationwide, state leaders set aside at least $2.6 billion from the CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Fund to prop up struggling renters, but a year later, more than $425 million of that — or 16% — hadn’t made it into the pockets of tenants or their landlords," according to the investigation.

The tale of bungled and inadequate protections for renters during the pandemic continues: "The federal government had an eviction moratorium in place for the majority of 2020 and the first half of 2021, but landlords across the country have found creative ways around it. People in communities of color have been far more likely to receive eviction notices during the pandemic than people in white neighborhoods…"

The story begins by focusing on the example of North Carolina, where programs and funding were slow, obstructed, or deliberately sabotaged. But other states are included in this analysis too—like Georgia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama, which all decided not to set up statewide rent relief programs in 2020. The report also finds evidence of some states spending rent relief funds for other Covid-related purposes.

The Center for Public Integrity surveyed about 70 state and local agencies that the National Low Income Housing Coalition identified as having set aside Coronavirus Relief Fund money for rent help in 2020. About $1 out of every $6 of that $2.6 billion wound up getting spent on other COVID-19-related expenses, such as protective equipment, police officers’ salaries and small-business loans.

The damage to all of this neglect can be measured in lives. Diane Yentel, executive director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, is quoted in the article describing research showing that "where eviction moratoriums were allowed to expire and tenants were evicted for nonpayment of rent, it led to increases in deaths from COVID-19."

The article also credits a dozen states for allocating all of the rental assistance from the Coronavirus Relief Fund by March 31.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in The Center for Public Integrity

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