On September 10, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee held a hearing entitled “Protecting Renters During the Pandemic: Reviewing Reforms to Expedite Emergency Rental Assistance,” during which the committee considered two pieces of legislation aimed at improving the federal Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program. The two bills considered were the Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021 (H.R. 5196), introduced by Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), and the second was the Renter Protection Act of 2021 (H.R. 3913), introduced by Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). Witnesses included stakeholders from nonprofits, the private sector and state government. Following the hearing, the Financial Service Committee marked up and passed H.R. 5196 by a vote of 28-22 on September 13. The legislation contains significant implications for counties implementing the ERA program at the local level.
Among other provisions, the Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021 would:
- Require state and local grantees to accept self-attestation of program eligibility requirements from tenants;
- Provide safe harbor for state and local grantees accepting self-attestation of program eligibility requirements from tenants;
- Allow landlords to apply for the rental arrears they are owed, even if a renter is unresponsive, as long as the landlord meets certain conditions;
- Require state and local grantees to provide direct-to-tenant assistance if a landlord is unresponsive or declines to participate in the program;
- Require underperforming grantees to develop a performance improvement plan; and
- Provide $50 million to the U.S. Treasury Department to increase outreach and provide technical assistance to ERA administrators.
The Renter Protection Act of 2021, in addition to other measures, would combine the ERA1 and ERA2 programs and only allow funding to be used to cover rental arrears of households eligible under ERA1. It would also require state and local grantees to distribute all ERA funds by December 31, 2021.
Throughout the hearing, witnesses and committee members emphasized the importance of distributing ERA funds as quickly, efficiently and equitably as possible and discussed several strategies for doing so. Witnesses and members spoke to the benefit of streamlining the application process, utilizing self-attestation in determining applicant eligibility and partnering with local nonprofits and community-based organizations. The necessity of increasing outreach to landlords and tenants was also underscored during the hearing.
NACo will continue to monitor the progress of legislation related to the Emergency Rental Assistance program and advocate for county priorities through the process. NACo has also established a federal Emergency Rental Assistance program resource hub, a COVID-19 Recovery Clearinghouse and a breakdown of funding provided in the American Rescue Plan Act, which counties can utilize to navigate the funding and assistance available to them as they work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic at the local level.