As the world shut down with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, job losses and housing instability steadily became a growing concern across the U.S. as millions of people lost their jobs and could not afford to make their rent and/or utility payments. This situation exacerbated America’s existing housing instability crisis. Before the pandemic, in 2019, nearly half of all American renter households qualified as “cost-burdened,” meaning they paid more than 30% of their income on rent. In order to provide financial assistance to low-income individuals and families in need, federal legislation created the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program, which in total provided over $46 billion1 in federal funding to state, county, city, and tribal governments across the U.S.
To distribute this aid, many public-sector agencies needed to embark on a journey to build robust delivery systems that did not exist pre-pandemic. These systems included online application portals and standardized methods for reviewing and processing applications. To build compliant and efficient systems, a lot of these agencies also had to understand the federal regulations, eligibility and reporting requirements, and identify risk areas. As a lot of these systems were online and being conducted in a virtual environment, cybersecurity and anti-fraud controls also needed to be in place. The program intended to make funds easily accessible to eligible households in need, and the federal regulations encouraged approaches such as allowing self-attestation and using fact-specific proxies instead of onerous documentation requirements for households.
Guidehouse was retained by 16 state and local jurisdictions to help in a variety of capacities relating to ERA—including helping navigate the guidelines and assist with developing, deploying, and maintaining an online application process; staffing; providing quality control and oversight; and managing operations and program delivery of their rental assistance. As part of the overall program delivery, the Guidehouse team supported each client through the program design, technology standup, application intake and processing, monitoring and compliance, and closeout phases.
In the program design phases, our experts partnered with each client to interpret federal, state, and local legislation into program guidelines; draft and maintain the overall policies and processes; determine the required review processes; and establish staffing needs. To stand up new technologies necessary to successfully deliver the program, our experts determined case management technology requirements according to program guidelines, review workflows, data interfaces/exchanges, and established cybersecurity requirements and protocols.
To operationalize the program, Guidehouse conducted case management, reviewed files for eligibility, communicated with tenants and landlords, processed applications for payments, and processed appeals. For one state client, our experts provided translation services to ensure the program was accessible to all eligible participants. Throughout the program administration, our experts provided external communications support; conducted ongoing monitoring and compliance to mitigate instances of fraud, waste, and abuse; provided key performance indicator metrics and reports; and instituted protocols to ensure cybersecurity needs are met.
Across the United States, these funds have been critical to helping millions of households prevent evictions, avoid homelessness, and afford other essential costs for their families. As of the end of June 2022, the ERA program had helped more than 6.5 million households.2 The Guidehouse team has assisted programs that served over 700,000 applicant households to date.
1 Authorized first by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and then by the American Rescue Plan Act
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