Rental Assistance for the Unemployed

The first thing that races through your mind when you lose your job is “how am I going to pay rent?” Whether you rent or own, housing is the single biggest monthly cost for most people, and certainly one of the most crucial.

There are a few government programs to help renters find and pay for affordable housing, or to provide financial help to renters who want to stay in their current homes. If you currently own your home, but can no longer afford your mortgage, there are programs to help you transition to more affordable rental housing.

Federal Housing Assistance

There don’t seem to be many good options for federal housing assistance. An ideal program would provide monetary assistance to tenants or directly to landlords to pay part of the monthly rent. Unfortunately, the actual programs place strict limits on where tenants can live, which usually results in bad living conditions and long wait lists. There are three basic options for federal rental housing assistance:

Section 8 housing (currently known as Housing Choice Vouchers) is probably the most attractive option. Section 8 provides tenants with vouchers that they can use to pay part of their monthly rent in privately owned apartment buildings. The catch is that the vouchers are only good in buildings that are approved by the program. The limited number of approved units creates long waiting lists even for apartments and rentals that wouldn’t otherwise be all that appealing. Section 8 vouchers are administered through the states, and you can find links to the contact information for your state housing agency through the Housing and Urban Development website.

In addition to vouchers paid to tenants, HUD also subsidizes developers and landlords to provide affordable units in their buildings. Qualifying tenants are able to pay reduced rent in these buildings. Like the Section 8 vouchers, this subsidy only applies to certain approved buildings, and if your building is not approved, you will have to move to one that is. Ask your building manager if your building qualifies. You can also search for subsidized properties at the HUD website.

Public housing is housing owned by the government and rented out at reduced cost to low-income tenants. Public housing is also known as housing projects, and often take the form of large, dense buildings in the center of cities.

However, since the ‘90s, public housing has also expanded to include smaller units that are less concentrated. As with the other programs, you will have to relocate to one of these publicly owned properties in order to take advantage of this program. You can search for public housing properties in your state at the HUD website.

Federal rental assistance programs are tied to the property rather than to the tenant, meaning that when you find a new job and your income improves, you may no longer be eligible for the program, and will have to move again. That’s why these programs are not ideal housing solutions for the unemployed.

State and Local Housing Assistance

In addition to the federal government, state and even local governments often have housing agencies that provide assistance to struggling renters. How programs are designed and who is eligible varies depending on what state, county, and city you live in. You can find a link to housing resources in your state at the HUD website.

Transition Assistance for Homeowners

If you currently own your home, but will no longer be able to afford your monthly house payments, there are programs available to help you get out from under your mortgage and assist you in transitioning to a more affordable rental. The amount and type of assistance you are eligible for depends greatly on how much you owe, where you live, and who holds your mortgage. We covered homeowners assistance programs (including transition assistance) in detail. Go check it out.

Unemployed renters are caught in a Catch-22. On one hand, the best solution for not being able to afford your current rent is to relocate to a more affordable living situation. But most landlords want to see proof of income before they will rent to you. On the other hand, housing assistance programs are generally designed to help people struggling with chronic long-term poverty by placing them in subsidized housing. This means that temporarily unemployed people usually won’t even be eligible.

Being unemployed probably makes you feel poorer than you are used to being, but for the most part, you are better off trying to cut your other costs and trying to work out an arrangement with your landlord than trying to get help from government housing assistance programs.

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