Rental Assistance Programs & Organizations

    House and calculator with only a little moneyConsidering that more than one-third of people in the U.S. are living paycheck to paycheck with no real emergency fund or savings, it’s not surprising that many of us find ourselves in a tight spot when the rent comes due.

    Sometimes the need for rental assistance happens because of a short-term emergency like a medical issue, a change in employment, or another significant, but temporary, life event.  In these cases, one-time emergency rental assistant grants or a small personal loan (along with revisiting your budget) can help get you back on track.

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    Other times, however, making sure the rent is paid every month is a long-term struggle. Median rental costs rose 12.6% since 2008 while median income has risen 3.1%. In other words, a place to live costs more and we’re getting paid less, which creates a real problem for most consumers.

    Financial planners suggest spending less than 35% of take-home income on housing, but many people aren’t listening. A staggering 25% of renters currently spend more than half their income on housing. Just finding and getting into a place to rent within 35% of our budget is getting harder. How is anyone supposed to be able to pay security deposits and first and last month’s rent on top of the rent and bills they already have if they’re struggling?

    The good news is that there are organizations and programs available to help with rental and moving assistance. Here are some ideas and options that may help if you’re struggling to pay rent.

    Short-Term and Emergency Rental Assistance

    If an eviction notice has already been presented, you can get free, professional help through the process. The Legal Aid Society is an independent non-profit legal service provided by the government to help low-income families and individuals with civil matters, like eviction.

    They can help you get a payment extension, find a new home or have an eviction blocked altogether. Search online or call your local courthouse to get the contact information for the Legal Aid Society office near you.

    If you’re not quite at that point yet, reach out to local charity organizations for one-time grants to help cover the cost of rent before it gets far enough behind to warrant an eviction. Grants, unlike loans, do not need to be paid back, and that can substantially ease the financial burden of trying to get back on track. Some of these organizations can also provide temporary housing, should you need it, or help you find affordable housing.

    Here are a few places to look for help. Be aware that having a job when you go there gives you a leg up.

    Most of these organizations want to know that if they give you help this time, you can handle the problem long term:
    • Local Salvation Army chapters provide one-time assistance grants to help you cover payments. You’ll need to apply in person and prove your hardship.
    • Catholic Charities offers emergency assistance grants, which you can use to pay your rent or other approved expenses. You’ll need to apply in person and talk with a caseworker.
    • Modest Needs provides grants up to $1,000 from private funders to cover a single emergency expense. Anyone with a job can apply by creating a grant request on the Modest Needs website.
    • Society of St. Vincent De Paul. This is a ministry at some Catholic churches. It specializes in one-time, crisis solutions. Not all Catholic churches have this ministry so call around until you find one.
    • Local Charities. Local nonprofit groups may also offer rent assistance and other grant money. 211.org, a nationwide program of the United Way, provides local charity and non-profit resources information to users.
    • The Department of Social Services may provide one-time assistance with rent in instances of serious financial hardship. It is dependent on available funding. The rental assistance services and help they provided vary from state to state, so contact your local office for specific information.
    • The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website offers services that include actual housing or help paying rent, security deposits, housing counseling, energy bills, and other needs. The program helps low-income families, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

    Once you’ve navigated your immediate need for assistance. It may be time to look toward long-term solutions (like moving) if you just can’t afford or are spending too much of your income on rent.

    Federal and State Government Programs for Long-Term Rental Assistance

    There are federal and state programs designed to help low-income individuals and families, the elderly, and those with disabilities secure long-term affordable housing.

    One program is subsidized, or public, housing that can range from single-family houses to high rise apartments. There are approximately 1.2 million households living in government-run public housing units.

    Another option is The Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly Section 8), which is the federal government’s biggest program assisting struggling individuals and families. Unlike public housing, Housing Choice Voucher assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual and provided directly to your landlord once a month. You’re responsible for covering the remaining balance due. With this program, you can choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program without being limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.

    The HOME Investments Partnerships Program provides grants to states and local governments. These grants are designed exclusively to create affordable housing for low-income households either through direct rental assistance and assistance to homebuyers, as well as funds for the building and development of affordable housing. Because HOME funds are granted to states, you’ll need to contact your state or local government or visit HUD online to determine how the program operates in your area and learn which organizations receive HOME funding.

    Many states also have their own departments and agencies that offer financial assistance programs with housing being one of the bigger ones. This type of assistance is available to in-state residents and helps with paying rent, moving costs and deposits, and other housing-related expenses.  Your local Social Services or Housing Authority offices can provide information about these resources as well.

    The goal of these programs is to make sure that affordable housing is available over the long-term and most have income-based eligibility requirements. Even if you’re not eligible for direct assistance, they can usually provide a list of other local resources you might be able to use.

    Other Ways to Find Help

    There are other solutions when you need rental assistance, whether for a short- or long-term need.  The first thing you need to do, however, is to review or create your monthly budget to make sure that you’re not spending too much on housing and that you’ll be able to pay back any money you may decide to borrow (or that you’re currently behind on).

    Here are some ways to solve your housing crisis:
    • Talk to your landlord. Most landlords will be flexible and might be willing to work with you if you’re typically on time with your rent. Be sure you can pay on time in the future, and be ready to explain your current situation and how you plan to prevent the issue from happening again.
    • Friend and family loans. The main advantage of receiving a loan from a friend or family member is that your “lender” is more likely to be flexible about payment arrangements (and usually at a lower interest rate than what you can get elsewhere). You still need to treat these loans like you would a bank loan and make sure that you have a repayment agreement in place.
    • Personal loans from a bank or Credit Union. Getting a small personal loan to offset immediate or emergency expenses, can be a good option.

    One thing to note about loans if the lender isn’t friends or family: if your credit is bad, be careful who you do business with. If the lender doesn’t require a credit check, doesn’t check your income, guarantees you’ll be approved, can’t be found for customer reviews or a Better Business Bureau ranking, it might be wise to look elsewhere. There are ways to get good loans with bad credit, but risking a scam or exorbitant interest rates isn’t one of them.

    Maximize Your Budget by Reducing Expenses and Increasing Income

    Even with the immediate relief of a loan or leniency from your landlord, you’ll likely need to reduce your spending or increase your income (or both) to help give you extra room in your monthly budget.

    Sometimes the most logical solution is to not live on your own. Finding a roommate can be a smart, cost-effective way to cut housing and utility costs. At the same time, a side job could help bring in extra income that can be used toward rent, paying down debt, and establishing an emergency fund.

    If you have a skill that other people need, freelancing could be an option. “Gig” jobs, like driving for Uber or Lyft or delivering for Amazon through Amazon Flex, are also flexible opportunities that you can schedule around your other commitments. Search online for opportunities available where you are and be sure to check that they’re legitimate before you start out, especially for any online work.

    Generating or securing funds to move into housing you can afford, may be a better option, in the long run, than trying to secure funds to stay in a place you can’t really afford.

    Max Fay

    Max Fay is an entrepreneurial Millennial whose thoughtful writing shows he has a keen eye on both. Max has a genetic predisposition to being tight with his money and free with financial advice. At 25, he not only knows what an “emergency fund” is, he already has one. He wrote high school and college sports for every major newspaper in Florida while working his way through Florida State University. That experience was motivation to find another way to succeed financially and he has at Debt.org. Max can be reached at mfay@debt.org.

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