5 Tips to Improve your Emergency Rental Assistance Program
The federal government established the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program to support the many households across the country who struggle from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ERA program has been essential to providing relief, and grantees can employ specific methodologies to efficiently manage their ERA programs. Industry leading expert Patrick Beekman discusses common program administration challenges and proven tips to deliver a successful program.
The ERA program makes available $25 billion, provided directly to states, territories, local governments, and Indian tribes through the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Nearly every recipient of ERA 1 funding immediately recognized the challenges with administering the program rapidly enough to meet the needs of the large volume of renters who faced eviction and utility cutoffs. Developing an efficient stratagem for identifying qualifying recipients will help keep the flow of benefits moving to households in need.
Tetra Tech is currently providing turnkey management services for some of the top performing ERA programs in the nation according to a recent U.S. Department of the Treasury report. Three of Tetra Tech’s ERA clients are disbursing funds faster than any other program in their respective states. Through this experience, Tetra Tech has developed five tips to implementing a highly effective ERA program.
Tip 1: Utilize Community Resources
The best way to reach the whole community is to integrate with community resources and partners like the public library and the local parks and recreation department. While most households will be able to apply using an online application portal, digitally disconnected residents might have more difficulty applying to the program. Utilizing libraries and parks to provide information and technology access is a great way to connect with the community in a familiar place.
Tip 2: Increase Quality of Initial Applications
Another key to increasing program efficiency is to obtain quality information and documentation from the applicant without extensive outreach efforts by review staff. We realized very quickly that if applicants submit a quality application the first time, it reduces the number of outreaches our staff must make to obtain the correct information. Providing clear, simple instructions for the applicant to follow, along with a list of required documents upfront, facilitates an efficient application and review process.
Tip 3: Maximize Benefits
When the initial program launched in January 2021, many grantees were concerned that the program was underfunded. With the allocation of ERA 2, most communities have the budget to provide assistance to all applicants who apply. Best practice is to provide the maximum allowable benefits under the U.S. Treasury’s guidelines the first time. Limiting the amount of assistance with caps will increase the number of times an applicant might reapply and increase the number of times staff will have to review the case file, which may slow down disbursements. Additionally, requiring only the information and documentation the U.S. Treasury requires can help avoid unnecessary delays. Each piece of additional documentation the applicant must provide to verify eligibility increases the review time. The U.S. Treasury has some great resources and templates to use to verify eligibility using proxy data and attestations on its Promising Practices webpage.
Tip 4: Provide Prospective Assistance
The purpose of the ERA program is to provide housing stability for renters who are at risk of homelessness. Automatically approving eligible applicants for three months of prospective rent gives struggling households steadiness after months of uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic. It also increases efficiencies in the ERA program by reducing recertification volume and review time.
Tip 5: Track Performance Data
In addition to the reporting requirements specified by the U.S. Treasury, grantees should track the progress of the program with key performance indicators. Tetra Tech establishes and monitors metrics that support goals of the ERA programs we administer. Tracking the established metrics on a regular basis helps leadership staff make adjustments to the program that can save time and increase efficiencies. It also assists with identifying bottlenecks in the application and review process.
Many households are desperate for assistance to avoid evictions and cut offs. Efficiencies in program delivery will mean the difference between whether families can stay in their homes and have utilities or not.