Rental Assistance is the Best Tool for Housing Stability

Homelessness hit a record high in 2023 both in the United States and in Washington State. One of the leading causes of homelessness is an acute housing shortage. National and state lawmakers exploring policies aimed at addressing the rising homelessness rate focus on three main policy approaches to keep people in their homes: rent control (or rent stabilization), eviction bans (or eviction moratoriums), and rental assistance. 

  • Rent Control/Stabilization: policies that make it difficult and costly to raise the price of rent. Examples include laws that set caps on the percentage of rent increases permitted within a certain time period, such as Tacoma’s Landlord Fairness Code or HB 2114.
  • Eviction Bans/Moratoriums: policies that make it illegal or difficult to physically evict residents occupying a property without paying rent. Examples include the winter eviction ban, school year eviction ban, or pandemic-era eviction moratoriums.
  • Rental Assistance: policies that create a fund to provide temporary monetary assistance to residents who are unable to pay their rent.

Rent control is intended to prevent evictions from occurring by making it harder for housing providers to raise rents beyond a certain threshold. The idea is that, if policies can be passed that prevent rents from rising, residents won’t have problems affording to pay the rent and will be able to remain in their homes. However, these policies can cause housing providers to remove their rental units from the market and discourage investors and developers from adding new housing units. If housing supply falls, rent control can backfire by causing rent prices to increase because more people are competing for fewer housing units.  We wrote about how rent control can make the housing supply shortage worse in a previous article. Are there other ways for our government to stop evictions that are less harmful to the housing market? Eviction bans and rental assistance are the other two common policy approaches to tackle the problem of evictions.

Unlike rent control, eviction bans and rental assistance policies focus on a different part of the housing stability pipeline. Instead of trying to prevent evictions before they can start, both rental assistance and eviction bans aim to address residents who are already facing eviction. It must be noted that evictions are a terrible outcome for both the housing provider and the resident. Evictions are costly, time-consuming, and emotionally taxing for all parties involved—they are a last resort to be used only when all other resolutions fail. All housing providers want residents to continue to pay rent and occupy their property without issues. After paying for the eviction, the housing provider must then pay the costs to acquire a new resident. None of the parties involved want to go through an eviction. 

Many factors contribute to a situation that eventually leads to an eviction: low wages, mental health challenges, job loss, family issues, drug addiction, a lack of low-income housing, and others. It’s not possible to address all of these issues with a single policy. However, when dealing with an eviction becomes inevitable, lawmakers have two main policy approaches to help address this issue. Let’s compare eviction bans vs. rental assistance.

IssueEviction BansRental Assistance
EvictionsAlthough eviction bans prevent evictions in the short term, no resident can continue to live in a rental unit without paying rent forever. Eventually, non-paying residents will get evicted. Rental assistance in combination with resources and case management have a better chance of preventing a resident from future evictions and don’t leave them with a pile of debt for non-payment.
Cost to TaxpayersEviction bans don’t have a direct cost to taxpayers, but have significant indirect costs, including longer court times, higher legal fees, and higher rents.Rental assistance policies are often funded either through a direct tax or an industry tax on housing paid by the housing provider.
Cost to ResidentsResidents do not pay any direct costs for eviction bans, but may often have to pay significant indirect costs. Residents who avoid eviction are often left saddled with debt at the end of the process.No cost to Residents. No debt or collections for unpaid rent.
Cost to Housing ProvidersDepending on the length of the eviction ban, housing providers may lose up to a full year’s worth of rent from residents who continue to occupy their unit without paying rent. This loss of income is often not able to be recovered.Housing providers are often the ones who must “foot the bill” for rental assistance policies by paying a fee directly to the fund. However, these costs can often passed down to residents.
Housing SupplyAs shown by the data, smaller housing providers are likely to sell their units rather than face an eviction ban that can leave them bankrupt. Eviction bans can also discourage developers from investing into new construction. Rental assistance can create a stable housing situation for residents even if they can’t pay the full amount of rent. This can encourage more development and discourage selling of rental housing units.
Housing StabilityResidents who are covered by an eviction ban can feel like they have some breathing room for several months. However, no residents can remain housed without paying rent forever. Eventually, non-paying residents will be evicted. Finding a new place to live for evicted tenants becomes challenging. The loss of housing units makes it more challenging for people to find affordable places to live, especially in places with a high amount of in-migration.Rental assistance also gives vulnerable tenants breathing room until they can figure out their financial situation. Unlike eviction bans, rental assistance does not leave residents burdened with debt for rent that they didn’t pay. If residents continue to have issues paying for rent, they may continue to be eligible for rental assistance. Because housing providers feel more secure about their financial situation, people seeking rental housing continue to have plenty of options.
Greatest BeneficiariesA blanket ban on evictions will benefit residents who are at risk of eviction in the short term. However, any blanket ban that isn’t means tested may cause problems for other residents and housing providers.Vulnerable residents and housing providers are both beneficiaries of rental assistance. Keeping a resident housed is less expensive than obtain new housing and take care a residents physical and mental health.
Greatest Net LosersHousing providers are the greatest net losers from eviction bans. In some cases, an eviction ban may lead to higher rents, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or other terrible consequences for housing providers.The costs of rental assistance are often insignificant compared to the benefits of housing our most vulnerable.
Moral HazardEviction bans may incentivize some residents to consider not paying rent as a viable strategy. Residents who operate outside the law may also be incentivized to seek out loopholes to eviction bans so that they can continue to conduct illegal activity in a rental unit.Due to the temporary nature of rental assistance, residents who are in a tough spot can get help but will not look at this as a permanent solution. Because residents need to apply for rental assistance, this prevents rental assistance from going to people who don’t need it. 
Health & SafetyEviction bans will often allow harmful and even dangerous people to continue to occupy their units, which can present health and safety concerns to other residents and the housing provider. Loss of income also subtracts from the housing provider’s maintenance budget, meaning the quality of repairs, updates, and replacements will decrease.Rental assistance is designed to go only to truly vulnerable and struggling residents with the intention that these residents can get help getting back on their feet. Rental assistance also helps maintain regular maintenance and security budgets, ensuring that residents receive the same quality of life and safety they have come to expect.
EconomyBlanket eviction bans offer no incentive for residents to get back into the workforce. Some residents view eviction bans as an opportunity to live rent-free without offering something back to society in return. The loss of income from housing providers also affects the income brought in from taxes and can lead to the loss of jobs. The demand for legal services goes up as does the demand on the court system, which can have ripple effects on other sectors of the economy.Rental assistance does not replace payment of rent. Residents are still required to pay a portion of their rent while the rest of their rent is covered. This incentivizes residents to continue working. Some rental assistance programs also have job support and job placement components, which helps struggling residents get back to work. Rental assistance income received by housing providers continues to be taxed and reinvested back into the economy.

6 responses to “Rental Assistance is the Best Tool for Housing Stability”

  1. If you can’t evict a tenant for not paying rent, then rental investors will NOT rent their homes and would rather sell than to take the risk of losing tens of thousands of dollars. The larger cost is the cost to hire an eviction company and/or attorney and then all the damage the tenants usually do since they already owe past due rent money so they don’t care what damage they do to the house. Then there is the Water/Sewer bill that goes unpaid by the tenant. Who would want to take this type of risk and potentially cost them $25,000+. They may not have this kind of money available. Therefore, you will have FEWER RENTALS AVAILABLE and just like supply and demand, RENT RATES INCREASE making it unaffordable for people to live in a home and therefore increases the number of homeless people. Lawmakers are working with the WRONG people. They need to be reaching out and WORKING WITH THE LANDLORDS to see how together we can make rentals affordable for people to live.

  2. Absolutely agree! The challenges landlords face, especially with the inability to evict non-paying tenants, can lead to a decline in rental availability and increased rates. Collaborative efforts with landlords are essential to finding solutions that ensure a fair and sustainable rental market. Lawmakers need to engage with the right stakeholders to address these crucial issues.

  3. I have kept my rents lower than market to assure those on minimal wage have a place to live. When talking to affordable housing organization about this and if there was some support or tax breaks to of set a roof replacement. Was told ” we can’t have rents that low , all of Portland’s would be over here. Instead raise your rents and send your renters to us for supplement to help pay”. No wonder rents keep going up as we give builders tax break to build and have few’ affordable’ units that rent for half again to double mine. Also change rules so my month to month contracts are no longer good. I had to pay to have tenant move as court costs and time would have cost more. Now have to raise rents higher to absorb that possibility. Hate to leave my tenants without low rent but all this changes to assist renters are going to make me sell and rents will double. If you truly want to assist in keeping rents affordable you would give tax breaks proportion to rent.

  4. If you look at the national trend . Housing unit construction is starting to catch up. It helps when jurisdictions are on the positive side of the issue not the negative. There needs to be more incentive to add low income housing through government subsidies. Trying to address a multifaceted problem by trying to control one aspect is very short sighted. When the legislators want to agree to forfeiting all their reimbursements for their job , I’ll agree to rent control.i will never agree to not being able to evict a tenant

  5. Rental assistance paid on time and directly to the landlord would allow the private landlords to continue to provide much needed housing.

  6. Affordable housing means a 3 bedroom 1 bath house. Not what the government built. Affordable means it doesn’t need to be luxury. Keep the building material prices down. Build affordable so people can buy, or rent for fair pricing.

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