Programs That Help Pay Rent: How to Find Assistance

Many households struggle with making rent at some point. Maybe an unexpected expense derailed your budget or a sudden job loss left you with a shortfall. Regardless of the cause, it isn’t uncommon to need help.

Luckily, if you need help paying rent, there are options on the table. Most communities have several rent assistance programs available. You simply have to know where to find them. If you aren’t sure that you’ll be able to make rent and need financial assistance, here is what you need to know about rent aid, including how it works and where you can find it.

Is Rent Assistance One-Time or On-Going?

Whether a rent assistance program offers one-time or on-going support depends on how the organization operates. Every group can choose its own approach. There is nothing that mandates that they assistance someone repeatedly, even if the person’s need remains the same over time.

However, most organizations use short-term approaches. For example, many non-profits that provide direct support only do so when a person is at risk of eviction. Generally, this form of assistance is meant to be one-time, providing the individual or household with enough help to keep a roof over their head while they figure out any next steps.

In some cases, non-profits do offer financial assistance before the threat of eviction is looming. But this approach is far less common. This is especially true during challenging periods, such as the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic, as the number of people requesting assistance tends to rise, leading non-profits to adopt more stringent guidelines.

Typically, the only rent assistance programs that are designed to be on-going are those operated through government agencies. With those, the purpose is to ensure vulnerable members of the community – such as low-income families, individuals with disabilities, and seniors – are able to secure housing.

Government Rent Assistance Programs

There are government programs that help low-income households – as well as seniors and individuals with disabilities – afford housing. Usually, you’ll find robust housing search tools that can simplify the process of finding a low-cost property. Additionally, there will be details about any rental assistance that the agency makes available.

For affordable housing support, you may want to start your rent assistance search with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This agency manages the Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8. If you qualify, you essentially get subsidized rent. The government pays part of what you’d owe, reducing how much you have to cover.

Now, Section 8 won’t necessarily handle back-rent. Additionally, not all properties are part of the Section 8 program. Landlords have to choose to participate, and not all do.

But Section 8 isn’t the only option through HUD. The agency also oversees certain public housing units. The properties are actually managed by HUD, allowing it to keep full control over critical issues like rent costs, making them more affordable. Again, this isn’t a quick solution, as it can take time to gain access to a property even if you qualify. Still, it is worth exploring.

There are government rent assistance programs operated at the state level. Which one you can turn to depends on where you live. For example, if you live in Washington State, you can find housing assistance options through the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), which operates the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) Referral Program.

National Rent Assistance Organization

Many organizations provide rent assistance on a national level. At times, you may have to head to a local office for information or may be able to reach out online or over-the-phone to see if you qualify for their programs.

If you need rent assistance, here are some organizations that may be able to help:

As mentioned previously, every organization sets its own requirements regarding who qualifies for the programs. Usually, there are guidelines that outline who is eligible, though each group may look at each request individually, making decisions on a case-by-case basis. Worst-case, it usually doesn’t hurt to reach out and speak with a representative. That way, you can find out if you may qualify based on your unique situation.

Local Organizations That Offer Rent Assistance

Most communities have multiple local organizations that may provide rent assistance to individuals or households in need. In fact, there are so many local organizations throughout the country that listing them all isn’t practical. However, most of them fall into specific categories, making nearly anything in the niche an ideal place to start.

If you are looking for rent assistance, start with community non-profits. These can take a variety of forms, though they all tend to be focused on a geographic area and concentrate their support on low-income or vulnerable segments of the population. You may be able to locate these by conduction an online search featuring your city or county name, as well as terms like “community outreach,” “community financial assistance,” or “community support.”

Religious or spiritual organizations also frequently provide assistance to members of their local communities. While some may focus on their congregation, others are more open, potentially providing support to anyone who may be in need regardless of their faith. Usually, if you want to explore support options through faith-based non-profits, you can conduct a search for local churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and similar organizations to find out who is in your area.

Qualifying for Rent Assistance

There is no single formula that determines whether a person qualifies for rent assistance. Every program is allowed to set its own requirements, so there is a significant amount of variation between how organizations approach the matter.

With government rent assistance, there is usually a clear line in the sand. For example, income limits are commonly part of the equation and, if you earn more than the cutoff, you aren’t eligible. Being over a certain age may be a necessity for specific programs. Similarly, some options focus on disabled individuals, in which case you would need to have a diagnosed qualitying medical condition to apply for aid.

For programs run by non-profits, different requirements may be in play. For example, you might have to have proof that an eviction is imminent to be eligible for assistance through some emergency-only support programs. If you are looking for help to make sure you don’t miss an upcoming rent payment, non-profits who assist people in those situations may review your income as a primary determiner.

It’s also important to note that what it takes to qualify can change over time. Non-profits may have to adjust their programs based on the availability of funds, adopting more stringent requirements when the coffers begin to dry.

Other Options for Getting Help Paying Rent

There are other options that may allow you to get help paying rent even if you don’t qualify for assistance through a non-profit. Not all of these approaches will work for everyone, but most are worth considering if you are in a bind.

ModestNeeds can be a solid option for securing financial assistance. You complete an application to see if you are eligible for support through the organization, which is a non-profit. If you qualify, ModestNeeds doesn’t automatically send you money. Instead, your application will be featured on the site, and individual donors can choose to provide you with assistance if they so desire.

Donors on ModestNeeds also have the option to send money without specifying a recipient. When this happens, ModestNeeds directs the funds based on where it will make the most significant impact, which could be you.

Another approach that may allow you to receive direct support is by launching a GoFundMe campaign. You may attract donors from all over the country and could receive more than you request.

Usually, crowd-funding success relies heavily on the size of your social media network, as well as the number of contacts your contacts have. Typically, the majority of a person’s donations come from people they know, friends-of-friends, or other relatively close connections.

But you can try it regardless, as there is no cost for setting up a GoFundMe request. You only pay based on a percentage of the donations you receive, so your risk is minimal as long as you are comfortable with your story being public.

Finally, if you still need help, you may want to speak with family and friends directly. Those who care about you want you to succeed, and having a roof over your head is part of that equation. If they are able, they may be able to lend you a hand.

It’s also wise to speak to your landlord directly. Ultimately, it rarely hurts to ask, particularly if your due date is getting close, and you know you won’t make it. After all, they may be able to offer alternative arrangements, especially if your shortfall is likely to be temporary.