Emergency Rental Assistance Program for Families

If you are in need of emergency housing assistance, it is important to learn about the various government assistance programs that may be available to you. These programs offer several types of benefits, including rental assistance, utility bill assistance and grants that can be used toward repairs and certain improvements to a family home. 

You may qualify for a USDA or HUD program if you have a low income, and you meet additional eligibility requirements that are based upon the program for which you are applying. Families with low income amounts may also be eligible to receive assistance for the cost of heating and electricity, as well as small weatherization upgrades, through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). By learning more about each program, you will have a better understanding of the assistance programs for which you may be eligible, as well as known how to submit an application for benefits. 

Qualifying for Emergency Housing Assistance

If you need emergency housing assistance, it is important to apply to any government assistance program for which you may be eligible – right away – as some programs may put you on a waiting list to receive assistance, based upon available funding. 

There are two HUD programs that offer rental assistance to qualifying low-income families and households. These two programs are the Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly referred to as Section 8, and the Public Housing Program. 

The Housing Choice Voucher Program offers families with low incomes rental assistance to those who qualify by providing a portion of a beneficiary’s rent directly to the landlord. The benefiting family or household is then only responsible for paying the remaining rental amount. Section 8 housing options include apartments, townhomes and single family homes. In some cases, the program can be used toward the cost of homeownership, paying a portion of a mortgage, rather than a rental agreement. 

The Public Housing Program is an HUD program that offers low-income housing opportunities to qualifying families, senior citizens and disabled persons. Rather than pay a portion of a benefiting family’s rent, the Public Housing Program utilizes residential housing that is own by local and state governments to offer decent, sanitary and safe housing at a more affordable price. 

If you are a homeowner in need of emergency housing assistance, you may qualify for a rural housing grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Grants can be used to:

Emergency housing assistance regarding utility costs may also be available to you. LIHEAP offers low-income households with monetary assistance toward a portion of heating and cooling costs, while funding is available. Additionally, the program provides monetary assistance for small, energy-efficient upgrades and repairs, in order to reduce the cost of utilities going forward.

Eligibility for the HUD Programs

To qualify for an HUD program, you must meet several eligibility requirements, including: 

  • All members of your household must be U.S. citizens or have a qualifying immigration status. 
  • Your household must have at least one senior citizen, one disabled person or your household must be considered a family (at least one dependent child living within the home). 
  • Your household must meet income guidelines. 

To receive emergency housing assistance from the Housing Choice Voucher Program, your household income cannot exceed 50 percent of your county or metropolitan area’s median income. By law, 75 percent of the available assistance through this program must be provided to very-low-income families with income that does not exceed 30 percent of an area’s median income. To receive rental assistance from the Public Housing Program, your household income cannot exceed 80 percent of an area’s median income. 

If approved to receive Section 8 benefits, you will either receive benefits right away, or be placed on a waiting list. Depending on the area you live within, the waiting list may be long, and you may be encouraged to apply for more than one county. In most counties, benefits are first given to families and households that have a “priority.” The priority basis varies by county, but may be offered to senior citizens or disabled individuals. 

Requirements for USDA Rural Housing

To obtain a USDA rural housing grant or loan, you must meet certain requirements. These include that you must:

  • Be the owner of the home and occupy the home. 
  • Be unable to obtain an affordable loan elsewhere. 
  • Have a household income that is below 50 percent of the area median income. 
  • Live within an eligible area. 
  • Be at least 62 years of age (grant only). 
  • Be unable to repay a repair loan (grant only). 

USDA rural housing loans and grants can only be used for their intended purposes, such as for home repairs, modernization, to make certain improvements or to make a home disability-accessible. 

Eligibility for LIHEAP 

To receive emergency housing assistance to put toward the cost of heating and cooling utilities, your household must be considered low- or very-low-income. Each state sets income limits, based upon state income medians. Income guidelines also vary by household size. Not every state covers the cost of cooling expenses or weatherization upgrades. Generally, LIHEAP assistance is provided through a grant that is distributed directly to the beneficiary’s utility account. 

In most cases, assistance is only offered while funding is available. Funds become available once or twice each year, depending on the state. Where funding is limited, assistance may first be given to senior citizens, disabled individuals or households with small children, based on the local priorities. 

How to Apply for Emergency Housing Assistance

Emergency rental assistance programs can assist in housing, home repairs and utilities. Should you qualify, there is no limit to the amount of programs for which you may submit an application. You may be eligible to receive assistance through multiple government programs. 

If you would like to apply for an HUD program, you will need to contact your local Public Housing Agency (PHA) for the area in which you live, or would like to live. There is no limit to the amount of PHAs to which you may apply. If your county or metropolitan area has a notoriously long waiting list, you may be encouraged to contact the PHA of a different county or metropolitan area. In most cases, applications are completed in person. You will need to provide the PHA with a number of documents to support the information that you provide on your application, including proof of identity and income for all household members. 

To apply for a USDA rural housing loan or grant, you must contact your state USDA office. When contacting your state office, you may also be informed of any additional state or local grants for which you may qualify. Depending on your state, you may be able to apply online, by mail or at your local office. You may be asked to provide documentation to support the information that you provide on your application, including proof of income for all household members. 

To receive emergency housing assistance for heating and/or cooling utility bills, contact your local LIHEAP office. When contacting your local office, it is important to keep in mind that funding may only be offered during certain months of the year. However, there are sometimes exceptions to this rule during periods of crisis or after receiving a disconnection notice. Depending on your state, you may be able to submit a LIHEAP application at your local office, by mail, online or over the phone. You may be asked to provide documentation to support your application, such as proof of income for all household members and a copy of your most recent utility bill.