Rental Assistance 101: Get Help Paying Rent

Posted on Nov 12 2014 - 5:51am by admin

If you find yourself in a position where you are unable to meet your rent demands due to a change in financial status (you’ve lost your job, have more children to feed, or experienced some reduction in income level) don’t panic!

There are various programs offered at the federal, state, and local government levels that can offer your assistance help with paying your rent or in extreme cases, assistance with finding and moving to more affordable housing, or in pinch, temporary emergency shelter to prevent homelessness.

This guide covers low income persons. We’ve written another guide specifically called Rental Assistance for Single Mothers which looks at some specific rent assistance programs that target single moms and women. However, many of those programs are also covered in THIS guide too.

First off, we’ve explored the topic of mortgage assistance and emergency housing already, so go to that link if you want more information about it.  This article looks specifically at RENTAL ASSISTANCE help — that is, help with paying your rent, moving to a new apartment, landlord issues, etc.

What is Rental Assistance?

Basically assistance programs that target lower income individuals / households who have problems making rent or who face the possibility of eviction.

Rental Assistance can take many forms such as direct rent assistance, housing vouchers, free (temporary) emergency housing, security deposit assistance, moving help, financial counselling, legal advice, eviction/foreclosure assistance, etc.  At the very least, you should be able to find an agency that can refer you to specific programs.

In this guide, we break assistance down into three categories:

  • Federal Rent Assistance
  • State Rent Assistance
  • Nonprofit/Local Organization Rent Assistance

State Rental Assistance Programs

It’s possible that your state offers some type of help program in place. The level of help will vary between states, with some offering specific programs by the state government and others no specific ones.

Typically, the wealthier, more population dese states or some of the more financially hard hit states offer the best programs for housing rental assistance.

California has the Community Services & Development (CSD) programs and the Renter Assistance Program. New York has for example New York Section 8 Rental Assistance Program. The state of Kentucky has the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program. Florida has the Emergency Financial Assistance for Housing Program (EFAHP).

Go to our State Assistance Help Programs page and check your local state specifically to see what help they need.

Federal Rental Assistance Programs

There are programs offered at the federal level to ALL states. Sometimes the programs are directly organized by the Federal Government and sometimes the funding is distributed down to the State or Local government level; sometimes grants are given to non-profits as well for specific issues like housing assistance.

HUD Section 8

Also called the Housing Voucher program.

When it comes to federal housing assistance, this will be the first program you should look at.

Out of all the programs for housing, the HUD program (Housing and Urban Development) is by far the biggest kid on the block. This is actually a program with different subprograms that each covers a number of different housing issues.

For general housing assistance, HUD’s Section 8 Housing Voucher program is the one program you should apply for IF you are suffering from housing issues. Keep in mind the funding is limited and the waiting list is long – it’s unlikely you’ll be accepted into the program (or given funding) right off the bat. It may take months, even a couple years before you get access to the program.

But if you get in, the benefits are good. There’s basically a couple aspects to the Section 8:

  • Housing Vouchers (used towards your rent)
  • Low Income Subsidized Housing (lower cost rental units associated with the HUD that you can use your Housing Vouchers on)
  • Ability to search for public housing on website

So essentially, the Section 8 program offers rental vouchers to help out households who can’t make rent. The vouchers are usable with special privately owned, HUD approved housing units.

Now much will Section 8 pay? Typically your finances will be assessed and government will pay the difference between what you can afford to pay and the rent. The total amount given is determined based on HUD’s Fair Market Rent value. You can rent a house that’s higher than the FMR but you’ll have to cover the difference. Likewise, if you find a place cheaper than the FMR value, you can keep the difference.

Contact your Community Action Agency, go to the HUD website, or visit your local HUD office to apply.

Tenant Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) program

Another program backed by HUD. It’s very similar to HUD but the difference being that the home assistance funding is given to local organizations to distribute, rather than the federal government.

USDA Rural Development Rental Assistance

A federal government program that offers various housing aid programs to families who live in rural parts the US. Often these households don’t have access to the same help resources that rural residents to.

The process is similar to the Section 8 Housing Voucher program – vouchers are provided to those accepted into the program with the vouchers making up the difference between what the land lord charges and the renter can afford to pay out of income.

To apply, you will need to contact your Section 8 Housing Provider who should have the forms for you can go directly to a local Rural Development center.

Local Organization Rent Assistance

Besides the federal and state rent assistance programs available, there’s a number of assistance options you can find at the local level from nonprofit organizations, churches, and charities. It’s hard to give an exact listing of specific ones here because these are always changing – new ones pop up and old ones close down. The best way to determine WHAT help is available is to hit the ground looking in your area. Many of these programs won’t come to you – you’ll have to go knocking to find them. But IF you are willing to put a bit of effort, you should be able to find some organization that offers at least some assistance.

Community Action Organizations

CAO’s should be your first stop for local and government assistance. If you are looking for RENT assistance, make visiting one of these organizations the FIRST thing you do. You’ll save a lot of time and effort by doing this first.

These centers are really the nerve fibers of the assistance programs at both the federal, state, and local levels. Information you find online (and yes, even can be outdated but your local Community Action Organization will have all current information on what programs you can apply for and how to apply. They can also link you up with private, nonprofit assistance in your area as well, such as churches and charities.

Transitional Housing Assistance

This is another sort of assistance that’s offered by local organizations (including charities and churches but also by the state in some cases). These are special programs that specifically target households who are late with rent, unable to pay rent, facing eviction or who have been evicted and have nowhere to go. The idea is to provide a temporary shelter while the affected person/s get back on their feet and to offer counselling and training for self-sufficiency.

The difference between an emergency shelter program and Transitional Housing is in the length of housing time offered. Emergency shelters usually only offer a few days stay while Transitional Housing Programs will set up a household for months at a time (in some cases, a year or two even). It’s a more semi-permanent solution than emergency housing. However, this also means there are limited spots and resources available in these programs.

The services offered by Transitional Housing Programs can run the full gamut including assistance with eviction, moving help, temporary shelter, and assistance with finding and moving to new low income housing. Some programs will help pay security deposits and the first and last month of rent even. Of course, this depends specifically on the funding a program has and your level of need.

Church Rent Assistance

Churches often distribute assistance to the needy. The help may be emergency shelter, food items, counselling, assistance with utility bills etc. This funding usually relies heavily on donations and the like, so it tends to be limited.

Your best bet for finding church assistance is to look up a list of all the local churches in your area/city and call them directly to ask. Many churches may offer assistance, but such might be listed online. So call.

Charity Rent Assistance

Charities (many which happen to also be churches or religious organizations, though not always) are another good source of rent assistance. The assistance given depends on the case and the charity. There are often emergency shelter programs in place to prevent homelessness, counselling services, free legal advice, food help, utility bill assistance, security deposit assistance and even rent assistance in some cases. Here is a list of the bigger organizations. There are more out there, so do look for yourself and don’t think of this as an exhaustive list. Many of these organizations offer different types of assistance NOT just rent assistance.

  • Catholic Charities – one of the largest church charity organizations that offers assistance
  • Salvation Army – the largest religious organization that offers charity assistance
  • United Way
  • American Red Cross
  • Jewish Federation of North America
  • Love in the Name of Christ
  • Lutheran Services in America
  • Ministries from UMC – United Methodist Church –
  • YMCA
  • Saint Vincent de Paul
  • Operation Round Up

Eviction Assistance Programs

What is Eviction Assistance?

Similar to Rent Assistance, but more targeted with assistance against Eviction. Most Rental Assistance programs will also offer eviction assistance as part of it or separately.

Eviction Assistance could include the following:

  • emergency shelter for evicted tenets
  • free motel/hotel  vouchers
  • rent assistance
  • legal assistance against eviction
  • mediation with landlord
  • counselling

Federal Eviction Prevention Program (EPP) 

The entire program is funded by the federal government but the actual cases and funds are distributed by local organizations. So you will need to talk to one of these to see IF you can get this assistance.

To apply you should find your local Community Action Organization who will certainly have information about this program. The Salvation Army will also have details on it.

State Eviction Assistance

Also look at what sort of assistance your state offers. Many of the same rent assistance programs do also have eviction help as well. Again, contact your Community Action Organization in your area to see what state help is offered. A number of the bigger states offer specific programs for their residents just for eviction help.