The need for rental assistance in the city is high. D.C.’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) reopened on Oct. 1 after closing in March due to the volume of applications. But by Oct. 10, the program closed again, due to high demand, according to an announcement on the portal. ERAP will reopen for new applications on Jan. 1, 2024.
ERAP assists low-income residents who are facing eviction or other housing emergencies, with the program either paying the household’s back rent or providing money to help them move into a new apartment. The program ballooned during the pandemic, as many District residents unable to work relied on it to stay housed.
For the past several years, ERAP has run out of funding long before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. While the program is supposed to be available year-round, an influx of requests last year drained the budget and led to officials cutting off further applications after only five months. Advocates such as the Fair Budget Coalition called for D.C. to increase funding for the program, but the FY 2024 budget holds funding steady at $43 million.
In an effort to make ERAP funds last longer, D.C.’s Department of Human Services, which runs the program, announced that applications for ERAP would open quarterly, meaning it will open three more times over the next year: Jan. 1, April 1 and July 1. Each time, the portal will close once DHS receives 3,500 applications. Any residents who did not apply before the portal closed will need to wait until Jan. 1.
The online portal to apply for ERAP was unavailable for multiple periods of time after it opened, including on Oct. 4 and 5. On Oct. 6, the site began displaying a graphic saying it was under maintenance. That same day, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White issued an open letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser, saying some residents had been having difficulty with the portal since it opened on Oct. 1. In the letter, he called on Bowser to ensure the system was back up and running.
According to At-large Councilmember Robert White’s office, the system crashed because of the volume of applications. By the afternoon of Oct. 6, the portal was again working.
D.C. officials disagree on how many ERAP applications the city can fund. This spring, D.C. received an extra $33.5 million from the federal government to be spent on rental assistance. The D.C. Council allocated the money for ERAP, but DHS officials said in June that the agency intended to split the funds between ERAP and Rapid Rehousing (RRH).
This summer, DHS slides showed the agency allocated $15.5 million of the federal funds to ERAP. The agency used at least $6.7 million in fiscal year 2023, according to the slides, leaving around $8 million for fiscal year 2024. Combined with the local budget of $42.5 million, that would mean D.C. has over $50 million for ERAP over the next year.
However, the council, including White’s office and the budget office, say that DHS cannot spend the federal money on RRH without approval from the council. According to Jennifer Budoff, the council’s budget director, D.C.’s financial system shows all of the federal funds were loaded into ERAP and only $4 million spent so far, meaning D.C. has up to $72 million for the program.
The funding level for ERAP may be especially crucial this year, as a new analysis shows that D.C. residents are spending more of their income on rent, as DCist first reported. According to the study, published in September by the United Planning Organization, over 44,000 D.C. renters spend at least half their income on rent. Most of those families earn less than $50,000, which could qualify them for ERAP. About 1 in 7 renters in D.C. are behind on rent, the report found.
Could ERAP help me?
While applications for ERAP are now closed, they’ll reopen three more times in the next year. The amount of aid available to an applicant varies based on a household’s income and need, but ERAP can provide up to five months of back rent; cover late fees and court costs for households facing eviction or with back rent; and pay a security deposit and first month’s rent for households who have to move.
To qualify, applicants must make no more than 40% of the area median income — $45,000 for a family of two, or $56,900 for a family of four. Only current DC residents can apply; however, the first month’s rent can be used for an apartment in a neighboring county, like Prince George’s, Montgomery or Arlington, if the housing emergency is the result of eviction or displacement.” Applicants must be at least 30 days behind on rent or be at risk of homelessness. ERAP is only available for each household once every 12 months.
When applications are open, D.C. residents can apply online, by going to erap.dhs.dc.gov, or over the phone by calling the ERAP Hotline at 202-507-6666. Applicants will need to submit proof of residency, a photo ID, and, if available, proof of income. A select group of housing and service providers, under contract with DHS, review the applications and distribute the funds. Eligibility will be determined within 10 days, according to a fact sheet on the portal.
This story was co-published with the DC Line.