This post is co-authored by Bread for the City lawyers Stacy Braverman and Lindsy Miles-Hare.
Bad news travels fast. We learned late last month from Housing Counseling Services that DC’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) is nearly exhausted, and that these critical funds will no longer be available for many low-income residents who are seeking help to stay housed.
ERAP provides emergency assistance for low-income residents of the District who are elderly, have minor children, or are disabled. To prevent evictions, these funds go to pay up to five months of past due rent. The funds can also be used to provide security deposits or first month’s rent, when doing so would prevent a family from being homeless or help to keep a family together.
Many clients of our legal clinic rely on ERAP funds when they face an emergency and cannot keep up with their monthly rent. One telling example is the story of our client, Ms. S.
Ms. S came to Bread for the City to meet with one of our social workers. She had been forced to reduce the hours she worked because of a disabiling injury, and her decreased income led her to get behind on her rent. A judge had granted her landlord permission to evict her if she could not come up with the money. Tracy Knight, our Social Services Director, was prepared to counsel her through packing her belongings and finding a relative, friend, or shelter to stay with. Tracy also recognized that Ms. S could benefit from our legal services.
When Ms. S lost her eviction case, she applied for ERAP. She received a notice approving her; then, two days later, she received a denial notice. The nonprofit organization that administers ERAP funds had changed its mind about whether Ms. S was disabled, which is a criterion of eligibility for the program. Ms. S had supplied records from her doctor, including a notice stating she was “totally disabled”; however, the nonprofit disputed the doctor’s note, because Ms. S was still able to work, albeit part-time. Ms. S had requested a hearing to contest the denial of her ERAP application, and it was scheduled for a mere 19 hours after she walked through Bread for the City’s doors.
Bread for the City lawyer Stacy Braverman represented Ms. S at that hearing, and won. The Administrative Law Judge ordered the nonprofit to pay Ms. S’s landlord enough to keep her in her home. However, the U.S. Marshals were already scheduled to come to her house and oversee an eviction before the ERAP check was due to arrive. Luckily, housing lawyers from our Attorney of the Day program were planning to be in Landlord-Tenant Court that day. With the Marshals literally at Ms. S’s door, Lindsy convinced a judge to stay Ms. S’ eviction until her landlord could receive the ERAP funds.
Without ERAP funds and the attorneys of Bread for the City, Ms. S would have become homeless. Now Ms. S is now in a position to consider her options and move forward with her life.
The ERAP program is specifically designed to reach some of the most vulnerable people in the District and keep them in their homes. Without these funds, entire families, the elderly, and the disabled will be at much greater risk of being evicted from their homes. There are a lot of people like Ms. S who are facing financial emergencies and need help with their rent right now. As the ERAP funding runs out, there will be fewer places to turn for the assistance that they desperately need. Fewer people will be able to successfully resolve such a crisis, as Ms. S did.
To learn more about tenant-led campaigns to save programs like ERAP, and make affordable housing a priority in DC, come to the Tenant Town Hall this Saturday, July 16th, at 2:30 pm at First Trinity Church (309 E St NW – next to the Judiciary Square Metro).