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Where to Get Help With Rent: The Ultimate Guide

If you need help with your rent, you aren’t alone. Millions of Americans struggle to pay their rent. Fortunately, there are several ways to get help paying your rent, such as churches and other organizations, government assistance programs, and even direct landlord negotiations.

According to a recent survey by Apartment List, 32% of Americans are currently struggling to pay all of their housing bills. While the government imposed an eviction moratorium that helped tens of millions of Americans for months, that moratorium does not apply to all renters. And in any case, it’s set to end on December 31st.

4 Ways to Get Help With Rent

There are many ways to get help with rent payments. The four most common are charities, churches, government programs, and direct negotiation with your landlord. But not all of these options are right for everyone. Before you decide which to try, it’s important to know how each one works.

Options for Help With Rent

OptionWhen It’s Best
CharitiesYou live in an area where one or more charities have active rent assistance programs
ChurchesYou live near well-funded churches and are active in a congregation.
Landlord NegotiationsYour landlord is understanding or would have trouble finding a new tenant if you broke your lease.
Government AssistanceYou meet qualification requirements and live in eligible housing.

Before we get into the details of how each of these works, it’s important to note that not all of these options are available for everyone. Each person’s options for getting help with rent vary based on their specific circumstances, including their landlord and what they pay in rent. These options also largely depend on where you live and the resources available in your specific area.

But regardless of which option you think may be right for you, if you’re having trouble paying your rent, the first thing to do is talk to your landlord. It’s very important when you’re having trouble paying rent in-full or on time to communicate clearly with your landlord and make them aware of your struggle. If nothing else, that can be a big help if you’re ever late on rent or unable to pay your full rent.

1. Charities

If you’re having trouble paying rent, one place you can look for support is with local charities and non-profits. These charities exist to help people, and some offer programs specifically designed to help people who are having trouble covering the cost of certain essentials, including food and housing.

However, not all of these programs are available everywhere. So before you eliminate other options, it’s good to see what local chapters of various non-profits offer in your area.

Some charities to check first for rent assistance programs include:

  • Salvation Army
  • Catholic Charities
  • Red Cross
  • Various veterans organizations
  • American Legion
  • Jewish Federation
  • Yad Chessed
  • United Way 
  • YWCA

If you aren’t sure which of these organizations are in your area or have rental assistance programs that would work for you, the closest chapter of United Way can still be a good resource. The United Way maintains lists of local organizations that offer rent assistance to qualifying applicants. 

Pros

  • Money doesn’t need to be paid back 
  • Charities are familiar with the local market
  • Charities can provide recurring support 
  • Some charities will pay the majority of your rent 

Cons 

  • Help isn’t available everywhere 
  • Assistance is only available for people who qualify
  • Help may not be available if you qualify for government assistance 

Getting help with your rent from a local charity may be a good option if you live in an area with active chapters of charities that offer assistance. This is especially true if you’re already active with a charity that offers help—you participate in its programs, etc. If you meet the program’s qualification requirements and are willing to volunteer or give back when able, this may be a great option.

2. Churches

If you’re having trouble paying your rent, churches can be another great place to turn. Granted, not all religious organizations have rent assistance programs, but several national churches have such programs, and local archdioceses, churches, and parishes can also be great resources for people looking for help.

Plus, you don’t always have to be an active member of a congregation to qualify—although it certainly doesn’t hurt.

If you want to find help with your rent from a church or other religious organization, consider checking with regional or national leadership for the organization. The United Methodist Church, for example, offers rent assistance programs in some areas. Similarly, regional archdioceses may be able to refer you to specific parishes that offer help.  

Ultimately, many rent assistance programs offered by churches are administered by individual congregations, so you may need to inquire with specific local churches to see whether they offer assistance.

Pros

  • Money is usually given, not lent 
  • Funds may be available quickly 
  • Other assistance may be available
  • Congregations can offer spiritual and emotional support, in addition to financial help

Cons 

  • Not all churches or congregations offer assistance 
  • You may have to be active in a congregation to qualify 
  • Not everyone has a positive opinion of organized religion

Getting rent assistance from a church or other religious organization could be ideal if you’re already active in a local congregation, or if you have family or friends who know of assistance programs available in your area. However, if you aren’t a member of any church or denomination—or if you live in an area where churches don’t have much of a presence—it may not be an option.

3. Landlord Negotiations

If you find yourself in a situation where you may need help with your rent, one of the best things that you can do is communicate your circumstances clearly and respectfully to your landlord. By making your landlord aware of your situation, you may be able to delay your payments or pay just a portion of your rent each month, with the rest accruing as a balance that you can pay off later. 

Also, sometimes landlords can offer assistance that doesn’t even require changing or delaying your payment. For example, they may let you take on a roommate that could make your current house or apartment much more affordable. But it’s important to first make sure this is acceptable, according to the terms of your lease. 

If no other options are available, you may be able to work out an option with your landlord to break your current lease so that you can move to a less expensive home.  In any case, you’ll never know what your options are if you don’t discuss your situation with your landlord.

Pros

  • You can communicate with your landlord to be on the same page
  • No interference from third parties
  • A landlord can adjust a payment schedule as well as rent 
  • Getting help from your landlord doesn’t rule out other options
  • Your landlord may be willing to alter the terms of your lease

Cons 

  • Unpaid rent may accrue and need to be paid later 
  • A landlord has no obligation to help 

Regardless of whether you end up getting help with your rent through one of the other avenues mentioned here, talking to your landlord is always something to do first when you’re having trouble paying your rent. Your landlord may not always be able to help you, but at least that way they’ll know that you’re struggling—and that’s something they’d much rather know sooner rather than later. 

And landlords are human, too. Many are very understanding and happy to help if there’s any way they can do so. 

4. Government Assistance

The sad truth is that a lot of people need help with their rent, and not all of them live in areas where help is available from churches or charities, and not all of them have understanding landlords who will help them out. 

For those people—and for millions of others who have special circumstances and need help—numerous federal, state, and local programs exist to provide critical assistance to people in need. Some of the most commonly used government programs used to get help with rent include:

  • Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs 
  • Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) assistance
  • Section 8
  • State Public Housing Authorities
  • Social Security or Social Security Disability programs

However, renters should be aware before trying to get help through any of these programs—federal, state, or local—have application processes and strict qualification requirements. If you make too much money, or don’t live in affordable housing, or have a past criminal history, you may have trouble qualifying.

It’s also worth noting that not all government help comes in the form of cash payments. For several months during the COVID pandemic, for example, the government imposed an eviction moratorium for all rental properties that were financed with government-insured loans. This moratorium, now extended through December 31st, is just an example of ways the government may provide help with rent without offering direct payments.

Another important note: If you need help with rent because your area has been impacted by a natural disaster, there are also specific programs you may qualify for.

Pros

  • Money usually isn’t paid back 
  • Is still an option if there aren’t charities or churches active in your area 
  • Numerous state and federal programs are available 
  • Some assistance programs help long-term

Cons 

  • Not all assistance is monetary (i.e. eviction moratoriums) 
  • Application processes can be complicated 
  • Programs have strict qualification criteria, which may include income limits 

Getting help with your rent through government programs may be your only option if you don’t have other options available, such as through churches or local charities. Or, if you know in advance that you’re going to need help with rent—for example, due to some overarching circumstances, like a disability—and you have time to work through an application process, these programs can be a great option for long-term, sustained help. 

Or, if you have particular benefits available to you due to your background (such as through the VA) or you already live in affordable housing, then government assistance may be your best bet for getting help with your rent. 

Ways to Get Help With Rent

Rent assistance comes in many forms. When most people think of getting help with rent, they imagine getting direct payments from the government, a church, or a charity to help cover their expenses. And, sometimes that’s how it works—but not very often. Typically, getting help with your rent takes several other forms, such as: 

  • Direct rent assistance payments made to the landlord on your behalf
  • Landlords accepting partial rent payments, with unpaid rent accruing at little or no interest
  • Making delayed rent payments with no late fees
  • Being allowed to sublet all or part of your space to a roommate who helps pay rent
  • Getting permission to break your lease and move to a less expensive place
  • Making In-kind rent payment through things like property maintenance and lawn care

Tips for Getting Help With Rent

Getting help paying your rent isn’t easy. Often, even asking can be difficult. If you’re facing financial hardship and may need to get some help covering your rent, here are a few tips to guide your search and help you find the help you need.

Ask Early

It takes time to get help, and you don’t want to fall behind. Finding the right local organizations can be challenging, and having your application processed can cause delays. So, it’s important to start looking for assistance as soon as you think that you may need help, rather than waiting until you fall behind on your rent.

Ask Often

If you decide to apply for assistance, make sure you stay on top of your application. You may need to inquire a few times before being directed to the right program. You may also need to provide supporting documentation or other information. Be sure that you stay on top of the status of your application and respond to requests quickly as you move through the process.

Ask Around

When you decide to get help with rent, it’s important not to put all of your eggs in one basket. Instead, be sure to seek help from multiple sources. Not every option will pan out, and most of these options are mutually exclusive anyway.

Take What You Can Get

If you apply for assistance, don’t be surprised if you don’t get enough to cover your full rent payment. That’s to be expected. You may need to find help from multiple sources if you’re facing serious hardship. But this isn’t an all-or-nothing process. Even if you can only get a small portion of your rent, accept the assistance with thanks and figure out where you can any other help you need.

Don’t Be Demanding

When you go looking for help with your rent, remember the other option is eviction. Many of these organizations you may contact for help have no obligation to help you. They simply offer rental assistance programs for qualified applicants, in addition to numerous other programs they administer. If you don’t get approved for assistance or only get a small amount, be gracious and thankful. 

Make a Good Faith Effort Regardless

Regardless of whether you’re able to get help paying your rent, always pay what you can when you can. Even if your rent is due and you only have enough to pay a quarter of what you owe, pay what you can to your landlord and explain that you are looking for assistance. This will help to keep you on good terms with your landlord and may encourage them to help you directly.

Reassess Your Other Spending

When you’re having trouble making rent, you need to cut any other spending as much as possible. Neither your landlord nor any organizations that offer support will be understanding if you can’t pay your rent but have a new car sitting in your driveway.

Take on More Work

Regardless of whether you’re able to find help, one of the best ways to cover your rent when facing hardship is to make more money. Whether it’s through freelancing, moonlighting, contracting, part-time work, ride-sharing, or other gig work, do whatever you can do to boost your income so you can pay your rent—or at least more of your rent—when it’s due.  

Rent Assistance During COVID-19

Though 2020 has been a time of great turbulence and financial hardship for millions of Americans, rent assistance has been extremely slow-coming in the COVID pandemic. Many non-profits who offer such programs have refocused their efforts toward caring for the sick and their families, rather than pushing rental assistance programs.

Similarly, churches saw their funds dry up. Millions of Americans quit going to church or offering tithings—even when churches were allowed to open. 

In all, the government has been the most active source of rent assistance during the coronavirus pandemic. While the government provided relief checks in the spring to millions of Americans (who desperately needed the money), those funds didn’t last very long. 

The biggest form of aid available so far—from any source—was in the form of an eviction moratorium that precluded landlords from evicting tenants who failed to pay their rent. But this moratorium only applied to properties that were financed by federally-insured mortgages. Any properties financed with private loans, seller financing, or owned outright were not covered by the moratorium.

The eviction moratorium is currently set to last through December, 2020. After that, there’s no telling what kind of protections will be in place. If it does end in December, you could have tens of millions of Americans facing eviction if they fall behind on rent—if they aren’t behind already. 

Bottom Line

Every year, millions of Americans struggle to cover their most basic expenses, including housing. For those who have lost their jobs or fallen on hard times and struggle to pay their rent, help is available if you know where to look. 

If you need help paying your rent, start by talking to your landlord and explaining your situation. You may be able to work out an assistance plan with them directly until you get back on your feet. Or you may be able to find help through a local church, charity, or federal, state, or local government programs to help you cover your critical housing costs.

Rent assistance comes in many forms and from many sources. Which one is best for you depends entirely on you, your background, and your circumstances—where you live, your income, how much you pay in rent. 

If you need help paying rent, be sure to check out some of the resources mentioned above. Not all of them will work for you, but at least one should be able to help you find the help you need.