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Millions of people living in the U.S. fell behind paying their rent and utilities amid the pandemic. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1 in 5 renters are currently behind on rent. Even as the American economy continues with its recovery, many are still deep into rental debt and some are even facing eviction. Under The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, $21.5 billion in emergency rental assistance is being sent out to assist families in need. The process to apply for these funds varies from state to state, and new programs are opening regularly. Here’s what to know: 

Who is eligible to apply for emergency rental assistance?

At least one member of the household will have to qualify for unemployment benefits or attest in writing that they have lost income or experienced significant expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible individuals will also have to prove a risk of homelessness, such as with a past-due rent or utility notice. 

Additionally, an applicant’s income for 2020 cannot exceed 80% of the median income in the area they are applying. Those whose income falls below 50% or have been out of work for at least 90 days, may be prioritized for assistance. This program offers up to 18 months of rent assistance, but may vary on an individual basis. 

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program does not impose restrictions based on immigration status and is not considered a public charge determination. So, non-citizens are eligible to apply. Housing assistance programs are generally not considered a public charge determination, however, for some state or local programs, non-citizens should double check for eligibility. 

See this sheet for more information regarding rental assistance and immigration status. 

How do I apply for this program? 

To apply, visit the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s State and Local Rental Assistance Database to see what your state is currently offering. Here, you will find links to all available programs in your state. 

If you cannot find what you are looking for, a more extensive database can be found here

For more one-on-one assistance, you can visit or call 2-1-1. 

As of now, the CDC’s implemented halt on evictions extends until June 30, 2021. If you are currently facing eviction, apply for assistance immediately and get informed about your state’s protections against evictions. Free or low-cost legal help can be found at


Thalia Carrillo is a writer based in Austin, TX. She moved from her hometown of El Paso, TX to pursue a journalism degree at The University of Texas at Austin. She enjoys covering politics and pop culture and has a passion for social justice, digital storytelling, plants, and specialty coffee!