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Tenants struggle amid patchwork of state rental relief efforts

Alex Brown, Stateline.org on

Published in Business News

Late last year, Congress gave Michigan more than half a billion dollars to protect renters in the state from eviction. There was just one catch: State leaders had to sign off on distributing the money.

Nearly two months later, the funding—along with the rest of the federal aid given to Michigan for schools, vaccine distribution and business grants—is stuck in a partisan standoff. Republican lawmakers want to approve only a quarter of the funding, arguing that distributing it in installments will promote transparency. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, wants to make all the money available immediately. Until the dispute is resolved, renters won’t see a dime.

Michigan already has depleted its rental assistance funding from the previous federal relief package.

Some states, including Missouri, Nevada and Washington, moved with little controversy to distribute rental help from Congress. And others, including Colorado and Oregon, even added money from the state budget to the federal relief. But some states have either refused to distribute all the money or struggled with logistics, leaving renters in jeopardy of losing their homes.

While the federal ban on evictions remains in effect through the end of June, loopholes and legal gray areas still leave some tenants vulnerable. Some states have imposed more stringent eviction moratoriums; others have let theirs expire. Even renters who are currently protected from eviction face mounting debt and no clear path to pay it off when those respites end.

Congress approved $25 billion in December to help renters with that debt—and aid landlords who have been unable to collect payments. Housing experts say even that infusion of money wasn’t enough, and President Joe Biden has called for an additional $30 billion to be included in the forthcoming relief package.

 

But whether those billions in aid will help save renters depends on how effectively states distribute the money.

Lawmakers in Montana have agreed to allocate only $17 million of the state’s $200 million share of the federal rent relief efforts, as Republicans have expressed doubts that the full amount is necessary. Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, has called on legislators to bump that up to $44 million, based on state estimates of demand for the aid.

The Idaho legislature was slow to approve the funding it received. Although leaders eventually voted to tap the relief package, some lawmakers complained that accepting any federal funds was a form of “dependency.”

In Pennsylvania, state officials failed to distribute nearly two-thirds of the $150 million targeted for rent relief in the previous federal package last spring, as the stringent rules and red tape accompanying the aid stymied most people seeking relief. Most of the funding was plugged back into the state budget. With $848 million in the most recent federal measure, state lawmakers quickly approved the funding while loosening eligibility restrictions, aiming to reach more renters.

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