A new study shows that home relief funding created more than $3 billion in social impact for low-income households, landlords, utility companies, mortgage holders, property owners and local governments.
The study, prepared by Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service on behalf of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, looked at home relief funding between 2020 and 2023. During that time, Ohio’s network of 47 Community Action Agencies were tasked with the distribution of nearly $660 millio
n in federal rental, mortgage and utility assistance allocated to the state of Ohio.
The study showed that prior to the pandemic, low-income Ohioans were already experiencing a housing crisis. For every 100 extremely low-income households, there were only 34 affordable and available rental units statewide. The study claimed only 14 of Ohio’s 88 counties were able to meet half of the housing needs of renters within the income bracket.
Research conducted nationally showed then in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, that poverty increased due to the pandemic’s effect on the economy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 37.2 million people reported living below the poverty line. That number was up nearly one-percent from the year prior. Those experiencing poverty were hit the hardest of all. Ohio was significantly impacted.
In March 2020, the federal government authorized several funding programs through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The first allocated $55 million to the state of Ohio for rental and utility assistance. Another program provided $45 million to the state of Ohio. In December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act set aside nearly $565 million for Ohioans. The funding was intended to cover the costs for rental, housing and eviction prevention and ultimately, to provide families with housing stability.
The Buckeye State tasked Community Action Agencies, including Step Forward, to distribute the funding to eligible residents. In order to receive the assistance, renters had to meet specific eligibility criteria, which typically included demonstrating a loss of income due to the pandemic, outstanding rent, and/or their risk of eviction. Renters applied for assistance through their state or local government’s designated program. Once an individual or family was approved, the funds were directly paid to landlords to cover back rent, current rent, and utility bills. In some cases, renters received payments to cover the expenses themselves. In turn, landlords who received ERA had to agree that they would not evict tenants for a specified period of time.
Between January 1, 2020 and September 5, 2023, Step Forward distributed more than $29 million in Home Relief Grant funding to those who were vulnerable to eviction.
Golliday recalls the challenges of distributing the unprecedented amount of money to eligible residents. Step Forward hired staff, adjusted workflows to operate virtually, adopted new technology, developed Crisis program infrastructure, policies and procedures and more to deliver assistance to those who needed it most. Most Ohio-based CAAs reported significant increases in the annual amount of housing assistance it distributed between 2019 and 2021. Step Forward experienced a 1,600 percent increase in the annual amount of housing assistance it distributed between that same time frame.
“The Emergency Rental Assistance programs had a profound impact on American families, especially residents here in Cuyahoga County,” Golliday said. “Not only did the programs provide financial assistance to cover unpaid rent and utility bills, avoid evictions and keep families in their homes during a time of crisis, but families who received assistance could redirect their limited financial resources towards other essentials needs, such as food, healthcare and childcare.”
Research conducted by OU’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service agreed. Data showed home relief funds stabilized households by increasing a family's ability to secure basic needs.
“Home relief funding, when combined with the full array of resources administered by CAAs, created a unique opportunity to stabilize the lives of at-risk Ohioans,” it read.
Key measures noted in the study included:
60% of surveyed program beneficiaries reported that without Home Relief assistance, they would have been homeless
42% of surveyed clients reported that without Home Relief assistance, they would not have had enough money for food
39% of surveyed clients reported that without Home Relief assistance, they would not have had enough money for gas
8% of surveyed clients reported that without Home Relief assistance, they would not have had enough money for medical care or prescriptions
The study also found that Home Relief assistance supported positive interaction between parents/caregivers and their children, prevented an increase in use of homeless shelters, reduced the negative economic ripple effects of foreclosure, and that the funds prevented an increase in the use of the foster care system. For example, nearly half of the clients surveyed reported that without Home Relief assistance, they would not have had time to spend playing, reading or hanging out with their kids. About a third of the clients surveyed reported that without Home Relief funding, their children would have had to change schools. More than 35 percent of surveyed clients reported that without Home Relief funding, they would have had to move somewhere that would have made it more difficult to get their children to school. A similar number of clients surveyed said they would have had to move, making it more difficult to find someone to watch their children.
“If it wasn’t for [Community Action], I would have been on the streets with my eight children. By getting the help my family needed, I was able to keep my house, get my STNA license, and get a good paying job where I would not be at risk of being homeless again,” one Ohioan reported.
“I have been given another opportunity to get my life back in order and catch up on everything,” another CAA client said.
Both quotes were included in the report, which was released in September 2023. It detailed the overall Social Value, the Social Return on Investment, and other measurable outcomes that stemmed from Home Relief assistance.
As of 2023, many Community Action Agencies continue to provide rental assistance, including Step Forward. The agency has been intermittently closing the application portal to process paperwork and has recently found the time in which the portal is open to be shorter and shorter.
“We accept 250 applications at a time to process timely, and the time frame in which our system is open has been decreasing each week,” Golliday explained. “The shortest time in which the portal remained open was one day.”
Step Forward confirmed that it received $9 million in Home Relief assistance at the beginning of 2023, however the agency distributed that amount of money within three months. The agency requested additional funding and allocated that within two months. Golliday said the agency’s emergency assistance program is providing about $1 million to residents per month.
“Even in 2023, rental assistance isn’t just a lifeline,” Golliday said. “For some families, it’s the foundation on which dreams are built and the bridge that connects them to a brighter tomorrow. Emergency assistance is a promise that no one is left behind in the pursuit of a stable, secure home.”
For more information about the emergency assistance available through Step Forward,