Rental assistance programs in all 50 states

  • When you can’t pay the rent, talk with your landlord, manage your expenses and find help through community programs.
  • Emergency rental assistance programs are government-funded resources that make payments to landlords on behalf of tenants.
  • Aid is often processed by the state or county, so check your local jurisdiction to see if you qualify.

Rents in the United States have risen 18% on average over the past five years, outpacing both inflation and wage growth. While wages in the United States are rising, they are doing so at a considerably slower rate relative to the cost of rent. In the past year alone, wages have increased by around 5% while rental prices have increased by 15%.

These numbers aren’t just statistics, but a chilling reality for renters, who make up about a third of the US population. If there comes a time when you can’t pay the rent, there are options designed to help you.

What to do if you can’t afford rent

While every situation may be slightly different, there are expert-recommended best practices that everyone can adopt. “You don’t want to pretend this is going away,” says Regina Carmine, NACCC-certified financial counselor and HUD-certified housing counselor at the Pittsburg Financial Empowerment Center. “You really need to deal with it right away or in advance if possible.”

1. Talk to your landlord

As soon as you realize you won’t be able to make full payment of the rent, you should speak with your landlord or property manager as soon as possible. “It’s the first thing you should do, and probably the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do,” says Carmine. Although it may be uncomfortable, it’s important to establish an open line of communication, and that way your landlord may be more willing to reach an agreement that benefits both parties.

You should gather any documents you have that show loss of income or why you are unable to pay rent. “It’s better to be prepared with more information than necessary,” says Carmine. “Tell the story so they don’t have to ask.

When you initiate this conversation, it can be helpful to come prepared with a proposed solution or compromise. “There are definitely a lot of deals,” says Dana Amundson, MSW, LGSW, and housing program coordinator at Mediation and Restorative Services, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Amundson helps landlords and tenants reach agreements in situations similar to these. Most often, she sees payment plan resolutions, which often span a month or longer depending on the amount owed.

“It’s really important to be realistic about what you can agree to,” she adds, because it doesn’t serve anyone if one party can’t meet their end of the deal. She has also negotiated moving plans, where the landlord and tenant agree to help the tenant break a lease early without repercussions. Once you have come to a resolution, put everything in writing.

2. Find a list of organizations that can help you

After speaking with your landlord, you can explore organizations that may be able to offer emergency housing or rent assistance if you qualify. Modest Needs provides grants for emergency expenses, including rent and utility bills. The Multi-Family Housing Rental Assistance Program provides rental assistance to landlords of USDA-funded rural rental housing or agricultural labor housing projects on behalf of tenants. The Salvation Army also offers one-time rental assistance for people struggling to pay their rent (to see if you qualify, contact your local Salvation Army, as funds and programs vary from city to city). the other). “If you call 2-1-1 and say you need help with rent, they’ll put you in touch with a dozen organizations in your area,” adds Carmine.

Additionally, some non-profit organizations provide rental assistance and emergency assistance to people in specific occupational sectors, especially the arts, who have lost their source of income or experienced financial hardship.

3. Manage your expenses

As you work with your landlord and any programs that can help you, managing your cash outflows will be another important step. “When we look at how to manage debt and ensure that our cash flow is positive or at least neutral, the magic word is budgeting,” says Michael Cocco, a CFP® professional at Equitable Advisors. He suggests writing down each expense and categorizing it as a want or a need. “There are basic things – like food and shelter – that we all need, but there are other things that go a little too far that we need to reflect on and look within.”

Carmine suggests creating a “priority budget”. For this type of system, you prioritize certain expenses and minimize others that are not of primary importance. “It starts with the things that are real estate, primarily your rent and your mortgage,” she says. From there, you consider other expenses like utilities, bills, food, and entertainment. Ideally, you reduce or minimize things towards the bottom of the list to ensure that everything at the top gets paid. “Looking at it on paper is what’s really eye-opening for most,” adds Carmine.

The two finance professionals also recommend calling utility companies and other service providers to negotiate rates. “Sometimes a simple 15-minute call can cut your bill $25-30 a month,” Cocco says.

However, cutting expenses may not go that far, so it’s also important to consider all the ways to earn extra income, whether that’s exploring extra pay with a boss or applying for a job. other positions. “Some people may not have a job,” adds Cocco. “In that case, I would encourage people to look into government programs that might be able to help.”

4. Consider rental assistance

If you are struggling to pay rent, housing assistance programs can help. These programs are often administered at the state or county level and provide emergency housing assistance to eligible applicants, usually in the form of grants that do not need to be repaid. “I’ve never experienced any of these programs to demand a refund,” Carmine says.

Often, these are government-funded economic relief programs to help people from different communities in times of hardship. “We always recommend people contact local resources in their county, and these county workers can help guide you through the application in your jurisdiction,” Amundson says.

How to get rental assistance

Eligibility for rental assistance may vary from state to state and even county to county. Many states have COVID-related assistance that requires you to demonstrate pandemic-based financial need. “They change the qualifications very frequently,” says Carmine, noting that it’s easier to check with your local program to determine if you meet the eligibility requirements. If you don’t, she recommends monitoring the program frequently for any updates.

In some cases, tenants apply on their own, although in other communities the landlord must first submit an application. For this reason, it is extremely important that the initial conversation with the owner takes place. Amundson often sees these conversations taking place in mediation. “It helps to work together to figure out who’s going to do what, who’s going to hand out what paperwork, that sort of thing,” she says.

How to Find Rental Assistance Programs in Your State

Carmine suggests working from a top-down approach when it comes to finding rental assistance programs in your area. “I would start big,” she says, recommending people check out the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. From there, individuals can search for their state or county as well as “emergency rental assistance” or call 2-1-1.

*The program is closed; The information in this table is updated as of June 27, 2022.