The national ban on evictions is scheduled to be lifted at the end of the month, yet just a sliver of the $45 billion in assistance allocated by Congress has gone out to renters behind on housing payments.
The first round of rental aid was authorized by Congress in December, and by February the U.S. Department of the Treasury had disbursed the full $25 billion to states. In March, Congress allocated another $21 billion in aid for renters and their landlords, and states have so far received around $8.6 billion of that money.
Despite those historic funding levels, however, government data shows that just around $1.5 billion had reached renters by the start of June. And only around 176,000 households had been assisted.
“It’s very, very low,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The snail-paced distribution of the relief could have disastrous consequences, with the national ban on evictions set to expire in around two weeks. Some 11.5 million people in the U.S., or 16% of adult renters, are not current on their housing payments, according to the most recent analysis by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“The number of adults saying their household is behind on rent has been pretty steady since March, which is probably partly related to the slow rollout of emergency rental assistance,” said Alicia Mazzara, a senior research analyst on the housing policy team at the Center.
After the national moratorium expires, a few states — including Minnesota and Nevada — will ban evictions of people with a rental assistance application pending.
But across the rest of the country, many tenants may not get the relief in time to stay in their homes.
Housing advocates say the hundreds of programs charged with giving out the federal assistance have made the applications too burdensome and complex.
Andrew Aurand, vice president for research at the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said he saw one application that was 45 pages long.
Another required renters to document their income over the last six months.
“Public officials are more concerned about so-called scammers getting this money than they are about the people who truly need it, so they have made it nearly impossible for anyone to get it,” said Dan Rose, an assistant professor of sociology at Winston-Salem State University and an organizer with Housing Justice Now.
Landlords are also frustrated with how the relief is being given out.
“Rental assistance remains the sustainable solution that can make the entire industry — renters and housing providers alike — whole again,” said Greg Brown, senior vice president of government affairs at the National Apartment Association.
But, he said, “across the nation, hundreds of individual programs with vastly different rules are distributing the rent relief funds with different levels of success.”
Treasury Department officials told CNBC they expect upcoming data to show an uptick in the rental assistance that’s reached people.
They said the rollout has been challenged by the fact that there was no national infrastructure in place to disburse the aid, leaving states and towns forced to set up their own programs.
The long wait times for the aid are bad enough now, Rose said. Once the national eviction ban expires, they’ll be much worse.
“While cities and counties nitpick these applications, massive numbers of people are going to be displaced,” he said.