Restrictions on reopened Indiana Rental Assistance Portal will prevent many needy Hoosiers from getting help
By Laura Berry and Andrew Bradley
October 19, 2020
On October 13, Indiana reopened its Rental Assistance Portal for the first time since closing on August 26. While the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition applauds this needed step, the restrictions now attached to the portal funds will likely mean that very few of the nearly quarter million Hoosier households at threat of eviction will be helped. The Coalition renews its calls for Governor Holcomb to create a coordinated COVID-19 Housing Stability Policy Plan and leverage some of over $1 billion in CARES Act funds still sitting on the table to ensure no Hoosier is evicted or made homeless due to the pandemic.
Indiana’s rental assistance portal at indianahousingnow.org has been reopened using $15 million in Emergency Solutions Grant funds from the CARES Act (or ESG-CV) meant for homelessness prevention. About $7.5 million of these funds were earmarked for use in May, but had not been used to date.
While reopening the rental assistance program is good news for some Hoosiers, the eligibility requirements are far more restrictive now. The state’s COVID-19 rental assistance was initially funded using Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF), which carry a great deal of flexibility. The newly added ESG funds not only have their customary and significant federal restrictions attached to them, but also new state rules added the program. By solely utilizing ESG funds, the state’s rental assistance will now only be available to families who meet each of the new requirements include that applicants “live in a household with incomes at or below 50% of the Area Median Income (AMI)” and “have received a notice to vacate or notice of eviction due to an inability to pay your rent”. In addition, landlords must also agree to an apartment or unit inspection in order to meet HUD’s shelter and housing standards for the applicant to receive the funds.
Underlying the major challenge of relying solely on ESG funds for the portal is the fact that ESG isn’t just simple rental assistance. The individual has to meet the overall definition of “At Risk of Homelessness” which will exclude several individuals. Before their eligibility for meeting the criteria set by the state regarding the notice of eviction or potential eviction can be considered, potential applicants must already meet federal standards of (i) the strict income limits and (ii) the definition of lacking resources to prevent homelessness, outlined in the list below.
A large number of families will be eliminated because they will have to meet number (1) and (2) below and one additional criteria to be deemed at risk of homelessness.
According to ESG guidelines, “at risk of homelessness”1means:
(1) An individual or family who:
(i) Has an annual income below 30 percent of median family income for the area, as determined by HUD; [50% for ESG-CV funds]
(ii) Does not have sufficient resources or support networks, e.g., family, friends, faith-based or other social networks, immediately available to prevent them from moving to an emergency shelter or another place described in paragraph (1) of the “homeless” definition in this section; and
(iii) Meets one of the following conditions:
(A) Has moved because of economic reasons two or more times during the 60 days immediately preceding the application for homelessness prevention assistance;
(B) Is living in the home of another because of economic hardship;
(C) Has been notified in writing that their right to occupy their current housing or living situation will be terminated within 21 days after the date of application for assistance;
(D) Lives in a hotel or motel and the cost of the hotel or motel stay is not paid by charitable organizations or by Federal, State, or local government programs for low-income individuals;
(E) Lives in a single-room occupancy or efficiency apartment unit in which there reside more than two persons or lives in a larger housing unit in which there reside more than 1.5 persons reside per room, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau;
(F) Is exiting a publicly funded institution, or system of care (such as a health-care facility, a mental health facility, foster care or other youth facility, or correction program or institution); or
(G) Otherwise lives in housing that has characteristics associated with instability and an increased risk of homelessness, as identified in the recipient’s approved consolidated plan;
(2) A child or youth who does not qualify as “homeless” under this section, but qualifies as “homeless” under section 387(3) of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (42 U.S.C. 5732a(3)), section 637(11) of the Head Start Act (42 U.S.C. 9832(11)), section 41403(6) of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (42 U.S.C. 14043e-2(6)), section 330(h)(5)(A) of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 254b(h)(5)(A)), section 3(m) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 2012(m)), or section 17(b)(15) of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C. 1786(b)(15)); or
(3) A child or youth who does not qualify as “homeless” under this section, but qualifies as “homeless” under section 725(2) of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11434a(2)), and the parent(s) or guardian(s) of that child or youth if living with her or him.
The additional requirements may mean that many families in need of emergency rental assistance – who would have been eligible for the initial round of Indiana’s Rental Assistance Program – will be left out by the reopened version, either because they do not meet one of the stricter ESG and state guidelines or because their landlord refuses to participate in the program due to the home inspection requirement. For example, some applicants will have a support system or family that allows them to couch surf temporarily, which will disqualify them from receiving this financial support. If individuals are living with a family member or couch surfing, they are not considered homeless for Indiana’s traditional homeless services, resulting in a ‘Catch 22’ situation.
If landlords refuse to participate in the more restrictive program, money from this program will be left on the table when the CARES Act expenditure deadline and the CDC’s moratorium expire in December. These funds would need to be reallocated for other services and strategies to address homelessness, but without the time to do so. And because Indiana does not currently have an adequate and effective system for housing our current homeless, a potential increase in the homeless population threatens to overwhelm the system. Needing to also flatten the curve of potential homelessness spikes, every effort must be made to get these funds out to those most vulnerable while there is an opportunity to do so.
To avoid leaving hundreds of thousands of Hoosier families out in the cold with winter approaching, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition urges state policymakers to take up our recommendations for a coordinated COVID-19 Housing Stability Policy Plan. Such an articulated plan would not use funds piecemeal, but instead would ‘stack’ funds like ESG, some of $1B in unspent CRF, and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the CARES Act that can be used for rental assistance. Doing so would allow the state to prioritize the most restrictive funds for the families who qualify, while still being able to assist other families using more flexible CRF funds. In addition, the Coalition recommends that Governor Holcomb appoint a Housing Stability Task Force made up of housing providers, residents, and advocates to help inform the state’s policy response.
1‘24 CFR § 576.2 – Definitions’, via https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/24/576.2. Accessed October 15, 2020.
Laura Berry is Executive Director, Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence and President, Board of Directors, Indiana Balance of State Continuum of Care
Andrew Bradley is Policy Director, Prosperity Indiana
About the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition:
Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition (HHNC) was formed by members of Indiana’s housing security advocacy community in April 2020 to support advocacy and education related to housing and homelessness prevention in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Staffed by Prosperity Indiana through advocacy and coalition building grants from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Central Indiana Community Foundation, HHNC convenes partners from across Indiana to advocate for immediate, medium- and long-term housing stability policy solutions and conduct education and research to achieve federal, state, and local policies for an equitable response and recovery to the pandemic and beyond.
The HHNC Steering Committee is comprised of members from AARP Indiana, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention (CHIP), Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis, Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Indiana Institute for Working Families – INCAA, Prosperity Indiana, and The Ross Foundation.