Rent Assistance Programs in All 50 States

  • Talk to your landlord when you can’t pay your rent, manage your expenses, and get help through community programs.
  • The Emergency Rent Assistance Program is a government-funded resource that pays landlords on behalf of tenants.
  • Aid is usually processed through the state or county, so check your local jurisdiction to see if you qualify.

Rents in the U.S. have grown an average of 18% over the past five years, outpacing inflation and wage growth. While wages in the U.S. are rising, they are growing at a much slower rate than rental costs. In the past year alone, wages have risen by about 5 per cent, while rental prices have risen by 15 per cent.

These numbers aren’t just statistics, they’re a dire reality for renters, who make up about one-third of the U.S. population. If one day you can’t pay your rent, there are options to help.

What you can do if you can’t pay your rent

While each situation may be slightly different, there are best practices recommended by experts for anyone to follow. “You don’t want to pretend it’s going to go away,” says Regina Carmine, a NACCC-certified financial counselor and HUD-certified housing counselor with the Pittsburgh Center for Financial Empowerment. “You really need to deal with it immediately or ahead of time if possible.”

1. Talk to your landlord

You should speak to your landlord or property manager as soon as you realize you won’t be able to pay the rent in full. “It’s the first thing you should do, and it’s probably the hardest thing you have to do,” Carmine said. While this can be uncomfortable, it’s important to establish open lines of communication so that your landlord may be more willing to reach an agreement that works for both parties.

You should collect all documentation that proves the loss of income or the reason why you are unable to pay the rent. “It’s better to be prepared with more information than necessary,” Carmine said. “Tell the story so they don’t have to ask.”

When you initiate a conversation, it can help you prepare for a proposed solution or compromise. “There’s definitely a lot of agreement,” said Dana Amundson, housing program coordinator for MSW, LGSW and the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Mediation and Restorative Services. Amundson helps landlords and tenants reach agreements in similar situations. Most commonly, she sees payment plan resolutions, which typically span a month or more, depending on the amount owed.

“It’s really important to be realistic about what you can agree to,” she added, because if one party can’t abide by their agreement, it’s not good for anyone. She also mediated eviction plans, with landlords and tenants reaching an agreement to help tenants break their leases early without repercussions. Once you reach a resolution, write everything down.

2. Find a list of organizations that can help you

After speaking with your landlord, you can explore organizations that may be able to provide emergency assistance for housing or rent expenses if you are eligible. Modest Needs provides assistance for emergency expenses, including rent and utilities. The Multifamily Rental Assistance Program provides rental support on behalf of tenants to owners of USDA-funded rural rental housing or farm labor housing programs. The Salvation Army also offers one-time rental assistance for those struggling to pay their rent (to see if you qualify, contact your local Salvation Army, as funding and programs vary by city). “If you call 2-1-1 and say you need help with your rent, they put you in touch with a dozen organizations in your area,” Carmine adds.

In addition, some nonprofits provide rental and emergency assistance to those in specific professional industries, especially the arts, who have lost a source of income or are in financial difficulty.

3. Manage your expenses

Managing your cash outflow will be another important step as you work with landlords and any programs that can help. “The magic word when it comes to thinking about how to manage debt and ensure our cash flow is positive or at least neutral is budget,” said Michael Cocco, CFP® Professional at Equitable Advisors. He recommends writing down each expense and categorizing it as a need or need. “There are some basic things – like food and shelter – that we all need, but there are other things that are too much and we have to reflect and look inward.”

Carmine suggested a “priority budget”. With this type of system, you prioritize certain expenses and minimize others that are less important. “It starts with real estate stuff, mainly your rent and mortgage,” she said. From there, you consider other expenses such as utilities, bills, food and entertainment. Ideally, you reduce or minimize the content at the bottom of the list to make sure you pay for everything at the top. “Looking at it on paper is really eye-opening for most people,” Carmine added.

Both financial professionals also recommend calling utilities and other service providers to negotiate rates. “Sometimes a 15-minute phone call can lower your bill by $25 to $30 a month,” Koko said.

However, the cuts may stop there, so it’s also important to consider any way you can earn extra income, whether it’s talking to your boss about further compensation or applying for other positions. “Some people may not have jobs,” Koko added. “In this case, I would encourage people to look into government programs that might help.”

4. Consider rental assistance

If you are struggling to afford rent, the Rent Assistance Program may be able to help you. These programs are typically administered at the state or county level and provide emergency rental assistance to eligible applicants, often in the form of grants that do not require repayment. “I was never aware of any of these programs requiring repayment,” Carmine said.

Typically, these are government-funded economic relief programs designed to help people in different communities during difficult times. “We always recommend that people contact local county resources who can help guide you through your jurisdiction’s application,” Amundsen said.

How to qualify for rental assistance

Eligibility for rental assistance can vary by state and even by county. Many states have COVID-related aid that requires you to demonstrate financial need based on the pandemic. “They change eligibility very frequently,” Carmine said, noting that it’s easiest to check your local program to determine if you meet eligibility requirements. If you don’t, she recommends monitoring the program frequently for any updates.

In some cases, renters apply themselves, but in other neighborhoods, landlords must submit an application first. For this reason, it is important to have an upfront dialogue with the owner. Amundson often sees these conversations taking place in mediation. “It helps determine who’s going to do what, who’s going to provide what paperwork, things like that,” she said.

How to Find Rental Assistance Programs in Your State

Carmine recommends a top-down approach when looking for rental assistance programs in your area. “I would start big,” she said, advising people to look at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. From there, individuals can search for their state or county and “emergency rental assistance” or call 2-1-1.

*Programs are closed; the information in this table was updated as of June 27, 2022.

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