Thousands more District residents who are behind on rent will get help this year than previously expected.
D.C. will put an extra $20.6 million into the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) in 2024, the Department of Human Services (DHS) confirmed. The program, which helps cover late rent and legal costs for low-income residents facing eviction, has been overwhelmed by demand in recent months. The new funding will allow an additional 5,500 residents to apply for help this spring and summer, on top of the previously planned 7,000 applications for the remainder of the fiscal year.
A lifeline for residents facing displacement, ERAP historically runs out of money mid-year. This year, DHS is accepting ERAP applications quarterly to give residents who face housing emergencies later in the year a chance to request funds. The ERAP portal opens once every three months and closes as soon as a set number of people have applied, typically 3,500.
When ERAP applications opened on Jan. 2, 3,500 people applied in four hours, suggesting even higher demand than in October, when the same number applied in 10 days. The strong show of demand came despite technical issues in both cycles that rendered the application inaccessible for a short time in January and over multiple days in October. A local tenant association said on social media in January that many members had not been able to apply this time around, especially since applications opened at noon and closed before 5 p.m., while many people were working.
On Jan. 5, At-large Councilmember Robert White — who chairs the Housing Committee — announced DHS agreed to put the additional $20.6 million into rental assistance. Because of this funding, a total of 8,500 residents will be able to apply for ERAP in April and another 4,000 in July, DHS confirmed.
“ERAP is a critical safety net program in D.C. because it keeps people in their homes and prevents homelessness and displacement. That is why I fought to keep the mayor from taking $20 million from the ERAP budget this [past] fall,” White wrote via email. “Social services are not just nice-to-have for residents, they are a crucial part of keeping families stable and secure and they help prevent future costs for social services and even crime.”
The announcement appears to resolve an ERAP budget dispute that lasted the better part of a year. When D.C. was drafting its fiscal year 2024 budget, Mayor Muriel Bowser initially suggested funding the program at just $8 million — a number tenant advocates saw as dangerously low, and a reduction from prior years. The D.C. Council instead voted to hold funding for the program steady at $43 million.
Then, over the spring, D.C. received an extra $33.5 million from the federal government to spend on rental assistance. While the council voted to allocate all the money to ERAP, the Bowser administration initially split it between emergency assistance and the Rapid Rehousing program, which Bowser argued needed the money to keep families in housing. When officials submitted a reprogramming request in November to get the council’s approval for this decision, the council rejected it.
The recent announcement means that DHS will use the full $33.5 million for ERAP as the council sought — a $20.6 million increase from the funding level that would have been in place had the reprogramming request been approved.
ERAP isn’t the only DHS program facing budget pressures. Just a few days after Bowser agreed, after weeks of dispute, to implement temporary benefit increases for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants, Washington City Paper reported homeless service organizations funded through DHS are facing cuts. City Paper reports the agency’s budget issues have arisen despite the city’s higher-than-expected revenue in 2023.
Could ERAP help me?
Applications for ERAP will reopen on April 1 and July 1. For households facing or at risk of eviction, ERAP can provide up to five months of back rent; cover late fees and court costs; and pay a security deposit and first month’s rent for those who have to move. The amount of aid available depends on a household’s income and need.
Current D.C. residents are eligible if they make no more than 40% of the area median income — putting the threshold for assistance at $39,080 for an individual or $56,900 for a family of four — and are either at least 30 days behind on rent or at risk of homelessness.
When applications are open, D.C. residents can apply online at erap.dhs.dc.gov or over the phone at 202-507-6666. Applicants will need to submit proof of residency; a photo ID; and proof of income, if applicable.
This story was co-published with the DC Line.