Millions of Americans have been behind on their rent since last year, when the pandemic caused a huge wave of unemployment and loss of income. Normally, tenants who fail to make their housing payments can be evicted on this sole basis. However, the CDC put in place an eviction ban last year to prevent a wave of homelessness.

This ban was allowed to expire at the end of July. However, a new eviction ban was then instituted in early August, protecting the overwhelming majority of tenants across the country until early October.

This last-minute eviction ban was a lifeline for tenants who otherwise risked dire consequences. But this again left the owners in a bind.

It’s easy to see landlords as the bad guys in the context of evictions, but it’s also important to remember that many landlords in our country depend on rental income to cover their own mortgages and living expenses. And so the landlords who haven’t been able to collect the rent for months are fighting themselves.

What makes the situation even more frustrating for all concerned is that there is a $ 45 billion rent assistance fund available for tenants who are behind on their housing payments. This money was allocated under the last two stimulus bills signed, passed in December and March respectively.

The problem, however, is that most of that $ 45 billion has yet to be distributed. And that hurts both tenants and owners.

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States are slow to disburse aid

A big reason the bulk of that $ 45 billion jackpot went undistributed is that the federal government provided rent assistance funds to states to distribute on an individual basis. And many states have fallen behind in getting that money out.

As of August 9, only $ 4.2 billion in rent assistance had been provided to eligible households, reports the National Low Income Housing Coalition. But given that many states have opened their portals for rental assistance requests since the spring, that’s hardly acceptable.

Some states have distributed this aid better than others. Texas, for example, has disbursed half of its first round of federal rent assistance funds. South Carolina, meanwhile, lost less than 2%.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many tenants who are behind on their housing payments are unaware that they are eligible for assistance. The Urban Institute recently found that less than 50% of tenants are aware of the existence of a rental assistance program.

But even among tenants who do know they can ask for help, the process can be cumbersome. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has seen some applications for housing assistance reach 45 pages. That alone is a barrier to accessing that money.

At this point, many tenants are protected until October 3 under the latest eviction ban. Those who have not yet received assistance but are entitled to it should ask for rent assistance right away. Hopefully, states will be better able to distribute this money in the months to come so that tenants get the protection they need while landlords get the income they need to stay afloat.

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