STATEMENT: The Shortfall in Rental Assistance Is a Policy Choice

Marc Stier |



August 11, 2021

Contact: Kirstin Snow,

STATEMENT: The Shortfall in Rental Assistance Is a Policy Choice

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, 45,000 households have applied for rental assistance as of Friday, August 6. But the City of Philadelphia only has enough funding to provide help for half of them, and more applications are coming in every day.

No one should be surprised by this devastating result. In June, a PA Budget and Policy Center policy paper showed that the General Assembly had distributed federal funds for rental assistance in a way that shorted urban counties, which are also counties that have a higher share of Black families.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly distributed emergency rental funds based on county population. At first glance, that may seem reasonable. But there is enormous variation in both the share of households that rent their homes in each county and in the cost of housing in each county. So, a population-based formula for distributing emergency rental funds short-changes our state’s urban counties and overfunds its rural counties. For example, Philadelphia’s aid per rental household was $853 less than the average two-bedroom, fair-market monthly rent; Forest County’s aid over this period was $1,350 more than the average two-bedroom, fair-market monthly rent.

And the impact of this maldistribution of rental assistance funds was systematically racist: Considering only the number of rental households—not considering differences in rental costs—counties with large Black population shares were most disadvantaged. Counties with the largest shares of Black population received only $417 per rental household, two-thirds of the $624 received by counties with the smallest shares of Black population.

Despite our report, the second distribution of emergency rental assistance enacted at the end of June was also unfairly distributed on the basis of county population.

And that is why perhaps half of Philadelphia renters will not receive the rental assistance that President Biden and the United States Congress promised them.

It’s time for the General Assembly to return to Harrisburg and allocate new funds from the $7.5 billion of our tax dollars still available to them to provide more funds to Philadelphia and other counties that were short-changed in the two distributions of emergency rental assistance.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center is a nonpartisan policy research project that provides independent, credible analysis on state tax, budget, and related policy matters, focusing on the impact of current or proposed policies on working families.