How to set up an emergency rental assistance program in your community

Because of the pandemic, housing instability and eviction are major threats to renters throughout the country. While many have relied on unemployment benefits, those benefits are decreasing and running out, leaving many in financial hardship.

The need for emergency rental assistance programs is greater than ever, and if you’re thinking about starting such a program, now is the perfect time.

Steps to creating an emergency rental assistance program

If you want to help renters in need in your community, establishing an emergency rental assistance program is an effective way to do that. The following steps can guide you through the process.

Start with guidelines and requirements from your funding source

Before you establish procedures and application requirements, it’s important to consider the guidelines and requirements from your funding source.

Programs like the Community Preservation Act have strict requirements when it comes to household income limits and eligibility. Some programs may limit the income to a certain percentage of the area median income (AMI) for eligible households.

Start with these requirements and use them when determining your eligibility criteria and the information you’ll request in your application. Consider collecting the following information:

  • Amount of past due or unpaid rent
  • Late fees the household members are facing
  • A copy of the household’s eviction notice
  • The household’s total annual income
  • Proof of income (such as pay stubs)
  • Proof of previous rent payments

Design your application and plan how to gather information

Make a list of your application criteria and the information that you’ll need to request from applicants. You can then design your application to include all of these necessary fields.

When designing an application, it’s important to make it easily accessible and simple for applicants to fill out. Paper applications are cumbersome and prone to errors. Providing an option for renters to apply online can make the application process easier.

Using a platform like Jotform can help. With Jotform, you can create customized forms with all of the fields you need. You can also decide which fields applicants are required to fill out in order to submit the form. Plus, using one of Jotform’s available templates can help you save time.

Rental Assistance Program Application Template
Rental Assistance Program Application Form

Once you’ve created your application with Jotform, you can easily share it with applicants. You can embed the form on your website, send it as a link in an email, and more. The ability to easily share forms helps ensure that all of the applicants who need the form can access it.

Jotform isn’t just for creating applications, though. You can also use it to collect screener reviews, reach out to landlords, and more.

In addition to creating these forms, it’s important to plan for application processing and overall workflows. With Jotform Tables, you can create an online form that will automatically collect the responses you receive.

All of the information stays organized, and there’s no risk of human error that you might have with a manual data entry process. This also makes your workflow more efficient, so you can process applications more quickly.

Establish clear guidelines

The more information you can provide tenants up front, the smoother your program will run — and the more trust people will have in it. Spend the time to develop your policies and eligibility requirements.

It’s also helpful to create a frequently asked questions section for your website. Providing the answers to the questions your office fields most frequently can help reduce some of the calls and inquiries you receive, and staff can spend more time focusing on application processing.

Build a referral network

While providing rental assistance is essential, helping renters pay for their rent is just one step. Often, the renters who become your clients also need other services, like utility assistance, nutrition assistance, and more.

As you develop your program, take some time to build a referral network. Connect with programs in your community that are likely to serve the same clients and develop a referral system. Connecting your clients with these services can help improve their financial stability.

You may also want to partner with an organization that already supports low-income residents. Whether that’s your local housing authority or a nonprofit, partnering with an established organization can help you get the program up and running faster.

That organization likely already has a thorough knowledge of requirements and experience managing federal funds, which can help ensure that you run your program according to all regulations.

Starting an emergency rental assistance program is a lot of hard work, but it can help prevent homelessness and support renters in need through this trying time and beyond. With plenty of planning, you can develop a program that serves a much-needed purpose in your community.

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