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August rent is due. Here's what to do if you can't pay it

Updated 4:46 PM ET, Fri July 31, 2020

(CNN) - August is here and the rent is due — again. But for millions of people in the US who are at risk of eviction, it's a month they've been dreading since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Two major supports for struggling renters are disappearing in the beginning of August. The federal government's most expansive moratorium on evictions has expired. And the $600 supplement to unemployment insurance payments has, so far, not been extended.

But rent is still due. For people who relied on those protections, this month may mark the beginning of new challenges.

"Emergency rental assistance has to be a priority," said Priscilla Almodovar, CEO of Enterprise Community Partners, a national nonprofit developing affordable housing. "It is a key factor to avoid the evictions which mean homelessness."

There are as many as 23 million renters who are at risk of losing their home, according to a report by the Covid-19 Eviction Defense Project and the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, as moratoriums expire in jurisdictions across the country. One in five renters is at risk of eviction by the fall, with the undocumented, people of color and low-income renters most vulnerable, according to the report.

"I expect that we are going to see a lot of families thrust into homelessness right as we are starting the school year, which is fraught with complications already," said Erin O. Planalp, managing attorney at Iowa Legal Aid. "But I hope that we can build on our connections in the community and partner with landlords to try to give people a little more time."

For people who are unable to pay rent this month, the good news is that there may be more rent relief resources available than when the pandemic began.

Know what protections you have

If you are not able to pay your rent, talk to your landlord. Many will agree to take partial payments or to set a payment plan. But if you still can't make rent, you need to know what protections you have to avoid eviction.

Eviction moratoriums, which are halts on landlords either filing for or carrying out a removal of a tenant, were put in place to protect tenants from losing their home during the health crisis. But they have been patchy and confusing. There were moratoriums at the federal or local levels, for different types of homes and for varying amounts of time.

The biggest federal ban on evictions expired on July 24. Included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and known as the CARES Act eviction moratorium, it protected tenants in federally subsidized or federally backed housing from being evicted for nonpayment of rent. This was a narrow protection covering only one in four rental homes, according to the Urban Institute, but if you are in that category it is one less protection you have.

But two other protections are still in place. The FHA, VA, and USDA have extended eviction protections in some situations for single family home renters until August 31. Separately, if your landlord gets CARES Act mortgage relief on the home you rent, then you may be protected from eviction for a longer period.

At this point, tenants are more likely to be protected by a local moratorium, which may have been extended or remain in place.

Such protections are based on where you live. For example, in New York State the governor extended the eviction moratorium until August 20. In Washington, the moratorium on evictions was extended through October 15 and in Massachusetts through October 17. You can check on the status in your state at Eviction Lab.

Or your protection may come from the kind of housing you have. The Philadelphia Housing Authority announced that it would extend an eviction moratorium for nonpayment of rent until March 15, 2021. This action is an effort to assure the authority's 80,000 low-income residents, who have been "disproportionately impacted by the virus," they can maintain housing stability during this time of economic uncertainty, according to Kelvin A. Jeremiah, PHA president.

But no matter the eviction moratorium protection you may be under, rent is not forgiven. Unpaid rent is still owed and will still need to be paid eventually to avoid eviction.

Reach out to find relief funds

The CARES Act allocated money to states and communities to use for rent relief. But connecting renters in need with the money is difficult, legal aid workers say.

For anyone who hasn't been past due on rent, it is hard to understand how difficult it is to live in a constant state of emergency, Planalp said. "There is this fight or flight response. Just taking steps to figure it out for you and your family is so difficult."

The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance will be needed because of the pandemic, and it lists relief available. Some states have set up their own web portals for rental assistance. If you are a resident of Iowa or Arizona, for example, you can answer a few questions to determine your eligibility for aid.

"There is a lot of funding out there," said Planalp. "But there are multiple programs and each program has its own criteria."

Still, much of this relief funding leaves people out, she said. Renters who are undocumented or without legal status are not eligible for the CARES Act relief.

Other information on local housing relief resources can be found through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a state-by-state list of nonprofit relief organizations can be found at Just Shelter.

"The assistance is there," said Planalp. "We've got to connect people with the right program and give them enough time to apply so they can get the relief they need before they lose their home."


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