Do you need urgent help paying your rent? Here’s How to Get Help

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| 8 min read Financial Assistance

Mandy and her partner had just started to settle in after making a big move across the US. Then an unforeseen expense made a huge dent in their budget and left them in urgent need of help with paying their rent.

“My car failed its inspection, and to pass I needed a $1,000 repair,” Mandy recalls. “I had 10 days to get it fixed and our rent was due the next week.”

Mandy and her partner were already finding it difficult to make ends meet. They both had low-paid jobs. Mandy’s wages depended on how many shifts she could pick up at the shop where she worked. It was a case of either paying their $850 rent or fixing her car.

Reluctantly, Mandy asked her mother for help.

“We didn’t know what else to do,” Mandy says. “If I couldn’t drive my car, I couldn’t get to work.”

Mandy isn’t the only person in this kind of situation. Many people are only one emergency bill away from not being able to cover their household expenses. A recent study by the United Way Alice Project found that a whopping 43% of US households can’t pay their monthly expenses (including housing, food, transport, childcare, health care and a monthly mobile phone bill). The biggest of these expenses is usually rent.

Why people need help with rent

According to federal housing guidelines, any family that spends more than 30% of their income on rent are “cost burdened”. This means they may have trouble affording other necessities.

“That’s hard in a lot of rental markets for people,” says Laura Scherler, senior director of economic mobility and corporate solutions at United Way. She adds that there are people who spend more than 40% or 50% of their income on rent. “It leaves them vulnerable if their car breaks down or if their kids get sick. Anything unexpected will throw them off. It doesn’t give them any wiggle room to manage those crises”.

That was the case for Mandy. She and her partner had already used up all of their savings on their move when they had to get her car fixed. Mandy estimates that they were paying about 50% of their joint income on rent.

“We didn’t have any savings to fall back on,” Mandy says, adding that saving even $20 of her wages (as Scherler recommends) was incredibly difficult for the couple at the time.

Financial challenges are widespread

Only 39% of Americans can pay for a $1,000 financial emergency out of their savings, according to a recent survey from Bankrate.

The same Bankrate survey found that when people cannot afford to pay for a $1,000 financial emergency out of savings, their solution is to:

  • Get a credit card (19%)
  • Reduce their spending on other things (13%)
  • Borrow money from family or friends (12%)
  • Take out a personal loan (5%)

There are lots of different reasons why someone might be in need of a temporary helping hand and need help with paying their rent. Volunteers of America (VOA) is a national non-profit organisation that helps people find affordable housing, particularly veterans, senior citizens, families and people with disabilities. VOA has identified the following reasons for the increase in need:

  • Wages are not keeping pace with ever-increasing property values and low vacancy rates. Property values and rent payments continue to increase at a rate that tenants simply can’t keep up with, leading to problems with paying rent.
  • Ever-growing waiting lists for subsidised housing. Waiting lists of 2–3 years for low-income families and single people make paying rent for more expensive housing more difficult.

While the problem may be on the rise, there are ways to raise money to help meet rent payments.

How to get help with your rent

Read your tenancy agreement

Find out what your rights are as a tenant. Find out what happens if you make a late payment or if you miss a month and when eviction proceedings can begin.

Usually, it takes 90 days before eviction proceedings start, Scherler says, so there is some time to work with.

“If you miss one rent payment, but make your following month’s payment, you may not be evicted,” Scherler says.

Talk to your landlord

If you are a good tenant and have a good relationship with your landlord, they may be willing to work with you. Ask if they will accept a late payment or if you can pay your rent in instalments.

Contact charities

Non-profit organisations can step in to help when the government can’t. Both Catholic Charities and The Salvation Army may be able to provide emergency funds to pay your rent and utility bills. Contact your local Salvation Army or Catholic Charities to find out if you meet their requirements for financial help. With The Salvation Army, applicants meet with a caseworker as part of the process.

Another option is to call 211, a 24-hour helpline staffed by United Way who connect people in need of assistance to resources in their local area.

Out of the 15 million calls and emails asking 211 for help in 2017, 4.4 million were for help with housing and monthly bills. That call volume was the highest percentage of any category, Scherler says.

“I think, unfortunately, housing is a tough one,” Scherler says. “That is a big challenge in a lot of communities.”

Another national non-profit organisation that offers help is Modest Needs which provides grants for a one-off emergency expense.

People have to apply for a grant through Modest Needs. If approved, the charity posts the grant request on its website and allows donors to review and support the grant requests that matter to them most. When the organisation approves a grant request, they make the payment directly to the vendor shown in the applicant’s documents. Most requests are met within two weeks, Taylor says, and many of the grant applications involve covering living expenses that applicants can’t afford due to a temporary financial emergency.

Explore other income sources

Ask your friends and family members for a loan or see if you can get an advance on your wages from your employer. Some companies may also have a hardship fund for employees.

Consider crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a great solution. A good way to alert friends and family to your situation is by starting a fundraiser on GoFundMe. They provide fundraising so that you get to keep more of the money that you raise.

Rent payment help for veterans

If you’re a veteran, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides help for homeless veterans. Non-profit organisations like Veterans Inc. may also be able to help those who need help with rent through its housing programme. If you’re disabled, the federal government has a programme to provide funding to develop and subsidise low income rental accommodation for adults with disabilities.

Government aid

Unfortunately, the federal government only provides limited help to cover emergency rent payments. The federal department of Housing and Urban Development provides help through its housing choice vouchers program, but there are often long waiting lists, Scherler says.

The government does provide some emergency funding. This is generally administered through state agencies, but unless you’re facing eviction, the help can be hard to access.

“You almost have to get to the point of crisis before you’re able to get assistance,” Scherler says.

A rent crisis can be a sign of a bigger problem

By taking a look at the bigger picture when faced with a one-off, emergency expense, people can avoid years of financial struggle.

For Mandy, her struggle to pay the rent was a sign that she and her partner needed more help than they were prepared to admit to get by. They had been considering applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly referred to as SNAP), but their financial crisis caused them to seek immediate help.

“We felt terrible,” Mandy says. “We wanted so badly to be self-sufficient, but we just couldn’t make it work.”

There are a number of resources available to you if you ever find yourself in a situation like Mandy’s and many programmes continue to provide help after the crisis has passed.

Volunteers of America has the following advice if you need help with paying your rent:

  • Take an active role in formulating an action plan to end your crisis situation with short-term and long-term solutions.
  • Try not to ignore the problem until the last minute.
  • Don’t panic or make hasty decisions, as there are community resources and support in place to help you through this situation.
  • Consider taking household budgeting classes to determine how to pay your rent or if you need to find a cheaper place to live.

“If you have this sneaking suspicion that next month you might not make the rent, you need to start looking right now,” Taylor says. “It’s important to be proactive and really get out there.”

There’s no shame in asking for help

Whether you ask for help through a non-profit organisation, friends, family or crowdfunding: don’t feel embarrassed.

“Everyone falls on tough times,” Mandy says. “It happens to more of us than people realize.”

So if you’re struggling and need to raise money to pay your rent, take a deep breath. Contact your landlord, a charity or non-profit organisation, your friends and family or start a crowdfunding fundraiser. Above all, remember that you are not alone. Sometimes we all need a helping hand.

For further information, read our posts Where to Turn When You Need Financial HelpGet Immediate Help During a Personal Financial Crisis, and Need Emergency Financial Assistance? These Resources Can Help.

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