March 24, 2021, brings the end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium – which means that rental assistance will be more important than ever to keeping tenant housing secure from eviction.1 Here’s how you can help your clients who need rental assistance.
Tips on Rental Assistance
Tenants should be prepared to provide details about themselves and their situation. It can be jarring for those new to assistance programs to have to provide personal information, such as household and income details, as well as documentation to prove those details. Frequently, the state or federal government is providing the rental assistance funds, and will require that documentation from the local organization administering the program.
org eag legalaction Liz Groeschel, Marquette 2015, is a managing attorney in the Green Bay office of Legal Action of Wisconsin, where she practices unemployment insurance and housing law.
Tenants should consider what assistance will work best for their situation. Some programs provide options to obtain either rental assistance for past-due rent and sometimes future rent, or assistance with a security deposit and first month’s rent for a new rental. When current landlords are unwilling to stop eviction processes, tenants should look for new housing opportunities to use assistance with a security deposit and first month’s rent.
Tenants and landlords need to work together. Participation from landlords is crucial for rental assistance to be effective:
Landlords will often need to confirm how much past-due rent is owed, or what a security deposit and first month’s rent will cost.
Landlords almost always need to agree that they will not evict the tenant during the time that the landlords receive assistance, which is a very important discussion point.
Frequently, landlords are required to complete paperwork confirming what amount is owed, where payment can be sent, and that the landlords will stop eviction processes.
Landlords are not required to participate. However, with rental assistance available from the programs listed below, hopefully landlords can be persuaded to accept assistance so tenants can maintain their housing.
Wisconsin Rental Assistance Programs
Wisconsin Emergency Rental Assistance (WERA)
After successfully distributing over $28 million in rental assistance in 2020, the WERA program is back in 2021 to disperse $322 million to Wisconsin landlords and protect tenants from eviction. The WERA program, managed by the Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, Inc. (WisCAP), provides rental assistance, utility payments, and housing stability services. The WERA program provides up to 12 months of rental arrearages and/or rental assistance, as well as up to three additional months, if needed and if resources are available.
To begin the application process, an interested tenant should visit WisCAP’s WERA program website or call WisCAP at (608) 244-4422 to find a local organization managing the WERA program in the tenant’s geographic area.
WisCAP’s website lists helpful frequently asked questions, including “Who qualifies for the WERA program?” The website explains that at least one or more individuals in the household must meet the following criteria:
qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a significant reduction in income, incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship during the period of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and
has a household income at or below 80 percent of their county’s median income.
Importantly, WERA can only be provided on behalf of eligible tenants to landlords who agree not to initiate eviction orders during the period of assistance. Landlords confirm this agreement with a Renter Verification form. Tenants are also required to provide documentation showing their income and proof that the tenants live in Wisconsin.
Foundation for Rural Housing’s Critical Assistance Program
The Foundation for Rural Housing’s Critical Assistance Program has existed since 1970 to help prevent homelessness in rural areas. This means that the program is not available in Dane, Racine, or Milwaukee counties. Rental assistance is one of five types of assistance that the program offers. Eligibility for the Critical Assistance Program is outlined on Rural Housing’s website.
Emergency Assistance Program through W2 Agencies
For more information emergency assistance programs through W2 agencies, see the Aug. 27, 2018, Public Interest Law Blog post about the Emergency Assistance Program through W2 Agencies.
Local Salvation Army and Saint Vincent de Paul Programs
Many local Salvation Army and Saint Vincent de Paul programs provide one-time rental assistance opportunities. Tenants can contact Salvation Army at (414) 302-4300. Local Saint Vincent de Paul programs and other smaller rental assistance programs can be found by calling 2-1-1.
Emergency Solutions Grants
Emergency Solutions Grants (ESGs) are grants provided to local agencies to support preventing homelessness. ESGs are funded through Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Often, grant recipients will fund rental assistance programs. The Wisconsin Department of Administration provides an updated list of recipient agencies that may have rental assistance available.
This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Public Interest Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Public Interest Law Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.
1 To learn more about the moratorium, visit the National Housing Law Project’s CDC Eviction Moratorium website.