Making monthly rent payments is a growing challenge for American families caught between soaring housing costs and stagnant wages. A lost job, a sudden medical expense or other events can turn that challenge into a crisis. There is help out there for people who are facing rent problems. Here's where to look.
Millions of Americans are struggling to pay rent. We're in a perfect storm of financial insecurity. Housing costs are rising faster than incomes, and many low-income Americans pay way more than the recommended 30% of their income for housing. Some are paying more than 50%. At the same time, financial insecurity has become a way of life. Millions of us do casual or freelance work and have unreliable incomes. Losing a job, getting sick, unexpected car repairs or any number of other unplanned emergencies can quickly leave us in a place where we just can't make that unavoidable monthly payment. When we can't, eviction and even homelessness become immediate fears.
Being unable to pay your rent on time can feel like the end of the world, especially when hard times make that struggle a regular occurrence and you are at risk of being evicted. Don't panic yet though: There are several ways to get help and improve your situation.
A Quick Note About Housing Choice Vouchers
Housing Choice Vouchers allow low-income citizens access decent and safe housing outside of the public housing system. The voucher program specifically allows tenants to use a housing voucher provided by a local Public Housing Authority and paid by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to pay for privately owned accommodations if their choice of dwelling qualifies under the program. The voucher program is extremely helpful for people with financial difficulties, but it often requires extensive waiting times. For this reason, it isn't always an ideal option, particularly for those dealing with immediate time pressures. If you are consistently struggling to meet your obligations, it is worth investigating options like public housing and housing choice vouchers as a long-term solution, but for the rest of the article, we'll focus on what you can do right now.
Talk to Your Landlord
It's always a good idea to reach out to your landlord and discuss your problem. Many landlords will work with you to come to an arrangement that accommodates your needs, especially if you've been making your payments promptly until now.
Before you contact your landlord, make sure you have all your financial data to hand and fully understand your position. Don't just call and start pleading. It's much better to call them with a plan of action. For example, you should state the reasons why you're having trouble at the moment, and that you'll be able to pay the outgoing balance by a specified future date. Do not resort to avoiding your landlord or making obvious excuses. Approaching the issue directly, with a clear explanation and a plan for recovery, presents you as a financially responsible tenant and encourages the landlord to work with you. You want to keep reinforcing that impression.
If your landlord agrees to reduce or defer payments temporarily, you should ask for a written agreement. An agreement might not prevent them from evicting you further down the line, but it will help your case should a legal proceeding arise.
Find a Roommate
If you live on your own, then finding a roommate to live with you and share all the bills is a good way to help solve your budgeting problems. It is a less viable option if you have a large family. Even if you live alone, however, you shouldn't jump the gun. Before you make any official arrangements, be sure your landlord is okay with what you're planning. Your lease might not allow a roommate, so always check first. If your landlord agrees, you will likely need to draw up a new rental agreement outlining your individual and joint obligations. All these extra adjustments might seem like a bit of a pain to accomplish but a problem shared is a problem halved.
Reduce Your Expenses
Once you've met your essential costs, like food and heating, you should prioritize housing. After all, what good are your cable TV, internet connection, and other monthly expenses if you don't have a place to enjoy them?
Review your finances and look at what you've got coming in and going out each month. Identify which luxury items are potentially eating up your budget, and cancel as many of these as you can. If reducing a few monthly expenses enables you to pay your rent, then do it. You can always get them back again when your finances have improved.
If your problems started with a single incident, like a medical emergency or a job loss, you might only need a temporary change in lifestyle to recover. If you are always struggling to pay the bills even without an emergency, you may need a more careful look at your spending habits. Careful budgeting and money management are vital skills, and the less you earn, the more vital they are!
Seek Short-Term Assistance
While many states do not offer short-term assistance for people who are having trouble paying their rent, some do, and there might be other avenues for official help. Local housing authorities and Social Services offices will have a list of short-term assistance programs available in your area. If your household includes children, elderly or disabled individuals or veterans, you should ask about assistance programs, because these groups often receive priority. Even if none of those is involved, it's still worth asking!
While many of the programs will require you to show that you have a regular source of income, some will offer assistance if you've recently lost your job. When you meet with your caseworker, make sure to come with all the necessary documents: Bring some ID, information relating to your financial situation, and your lease.