Assessing the Durability of COVID-Era Capacity Gains Among Community-Based Organizations: Lessons from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program

February 12, 2024


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the disproportionate impact of its economic toll on renters, the federal government allocated an unprecedented $46.55 billion to the U.S. Department of the Treasury to stand up a new Emergency Rental Assistance program (ERAP). In short order, grantees had to build the infrastructure necessary to deploy ERAP funds amid pressing demand, which led to the creation of hundreds of state, local, tribal, and territorial ERA programs.

Stable, affordable housing affects a range of important outcomes for individuals and families, including their ability to participate in the labor force. Local institutions—and community-based organizations (CBOs) in particular—play a key role in administering federal funding aimed at stabilizing vulnerable households, and the rollout of ERA only underscored the importance of that local capacity in emergency response implementation. Research has shown that the presence and capacity of local institutions helped shape the design of local ERA programs and that initial take-up rates of assistance were higher in communities with more robust local institutional capacity. Further, interviews with practitioners across the country revealed that ERAP funds led to capacity expansions among CBOs involved in administering the program. In particular, research has shown that, at the height of the program, ERAP funding had implications for staffing levels and deployment, partnerships undertaken, and the technological infrastructure of CBOs working on its administration.

However, by design, ERAP was meant to be a time-limited, temporary program. The first wave of ERAP funding came to an end September 30, 2022, and the second wave, while authorized through September of 2025, has been largely spent down. While the scaling back of temporary programmatic capacity is to be expected with the sunsetting of ERAP, questions remain about how much of the extended capacity CBOs were able to build through ERAP has been or will be maintained, either to continue some level of emergency rental assistance or to improve non-emergency service provision more generally. These questions are particularly important given that, according to the Census Household Pulse Survey, millions of renters continue to face precarious housing situations. While levels of renter instability have subsided from the peak of the pandemic, by the end of October 2023, 6.6 million renters reported being behind on rent and 2.4 million estimated at least some likelihood of having to move due to foreclosure in the next two months.

To better understand the impact of ERAP’s conclusion on CBOs and on their scope and scale of work after ERAP, this brief draws on interviews conducted with practitioners involved with nearly two dozen ERA programs across the country. These interviews help shed light on how the dwindling and, in many cases, cessation of ERAP funds is affecting organizations’ capacity along multiple dimensions as they scale back, reorient, and move on post ERAP.

The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or the Federal Reserve System.

Article Citation

Kneebone, Elizabeth. 2024. “Assessing the Durability of COVID-Era Capacity Gains Among Community-Based Organizations: Lessons from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.” Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Community Development Research Brief 2024-01. doi: 10.24148/cdrb2024-01.
About the Author
Elizabeth Kneebone is assistant vice president of Community Development Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Learn more about Elizabeth Kneebone