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Briefing paper

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the housing crisis in the United States. In response, policy makers are investing heavily in rental assistance programs. In partnership with a mid-sized US city, the People Lab is conducting a randomized experiment (N = 62,729) to evaluate the effect of reducing the learning and psychological costs associated with accessing emergency rental assistance on benefit take-up, and on subsequent eviction rates. The intervention leverages insights from behavioral science to deliver information about an emergency rental assistance program through a single mail-based communication to low-income renter households. Results are expected in Spring 2021.

Housing insecurity is at the root of many social problems including poverty, homelessness, and disparities in health and education outcomes. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, many cities across the US were already facing unprecedented rates of homelessness and housing displacement. Through its impact on unemployment and financial insecurity, the Coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated the housing crisis, putting an estimated 30 to 40 million Americans at risk of homelessness, and disproportionately impacting low-income communities and racial minorities. As of July 2021, the US Congress has allocated nearly $50 billion for emergency rental assistance in an attempt to ward off this impending eviction crisis. Yet, many cities and counties have struggled to spend their rental assistance funds, suggesting that some eligible residents may be unaware, unable, or unwilling to apply for assistance.

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