Samantha Roth is a Master of Public Administration Student at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark. She is a research assistant with support from the New Jersey Policy Lab and is presently engaged in a project on the topic of housing policy formulation and implementation in a post-Covid era.
Access to affordable housing has become increasingly scarce within the United States. COVID-19 has only exacerbated this issue. Federal policy responses, such as the 2021 Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program, were enacted to assist local municipalities in managing the challenges of housing affordability and inequality during the pandemic. New Jersey municipalities received a considerable amount of funding from the ERA program, and while the funding was necessary to implement local determination, the impact of this program on the populations directly affected remains unclear.
The project, entitled “The NJ Housing Crisis in a COVID Era,” is examining how five New Jersey municipalities have wrestled with particularly complex challenges of affordable housing and housing disparities while managing various issues pertaining to COVID-19. Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Trenton, and Camden all have large percentages of residents who have low incomes and/or rent their home. Therefore, the ERA program served as a vital lifeline to these populations.
The preliminary stages of this project concentrate on establishing context for this research. In defining the “crisis,” we identified three key elements that influence housing policy formulation, management, and execution based on changing circumstances: 1) organizational learning; 2) legislation; and 3) the structure of pandemic rental assistance. Members of our research team expanded upon these topics in literature reviews which will supplement our case study and will be incorporated into the final report.
Researchers in the field of organizational learning aim to build a theory of the learning process in organizations. The research has a descriptive focus – which aims to understand questions around why organizations learn, conditions that facilitate and impede learning, and learning effects. In the case of the project at hand, many of our questions will focus on issues pertaining to conditions that facilitate and impede learning of agencies engaged in addressing housing needs in the current housing crisis.
The legislative review critically examines the legal framework regulating federal policy responses. Congress created a $25 billion Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-260). A second round of ERA funding—$21.55 billion—was included in Section 3201 of the American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117-2). The ERA was funded through the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136), and administered by the Department of the Treasury, to assist state, local, territorial, and tribal governments.
Among other requirements, states and localities must use the bulk of funds for financial assistance, which is defined to include rental assistance and utility assistance (including payment of arrearages). Remaining funds may be used for housing stability services (i.e., case management and other supports to help families retain their housing) and administrative expenses. Renters are eligible for assistance if they are low-income, experiencing financial hardship, and at risk of homelessness or housing insecurity. Grantees are directed to prioritize very low-income renters for assistance. The law also established obligation and expenditure deadlines and imposed various reporting requirements on the Treasury Secretary. The housing crisis experienced by the five municipalities we are studying is influenced by the legal provisions written in the ERA program and further determines the capacity at which these agencies can facilitate organizational learning and knowledge sharing.
The literature review on pandemic rental assistance presents the findings, differences, and resemblances of scholarly research published on rental assistance programs within the last few years. Most notably, Aiken et al. (2021) defined six key findings which threaten the efficiency of these programs and impede their organizational learning processes. These key findings were: 1) Increasing Tenant Take-Up: Documentation Challenges; 2) Targeting Vulnerable Populations and Monitoring Program Outcomes: Designing a Program around Underserved Groups; 3) Engaging Landlords: Reported Challenges with Landlord Participation; 4) Boosting Efficiency: Building Capacity and Infrastructure; 5) Effectively Partnering with Nonprofits: Developing an Efficient Network; and 6) The Need for Clear and Flexible Funding Guidelines. Drafting literature reviews on the aforementioned topics was critical in developing a framework for our research as it expands on key factors which influence the housing crisis brought on by COVID-19.
Argote, L. (2005). Reflections on Two Views of Managing Learning and Knowledge in Organizations. Journal of Management Inquiry, 14(1), 43-48. https://doi.org/10.1177/1056492604273179
Aiken, C., et al., Learning from Emergency Rental Assistance Programs: Lessons from Fifteen Case Studies (March 9, 2021), Section 1, p. 10.
Crossan, M. M., Lane, H. W., & White, R. E. (1999). An Organizational Learning Framework: From Intuition to Institution. Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 522–537. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.1999.2202135.
Crossan, M. M., Lane, H. W., White, R. E., & Djurfeldt, L. (1995). Organizational Learning: Dimensions for a Theory. The International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 3(4), 337–360. https://doi.org/10.1108/eb028835.
Rudawska, A. (2013). The Learning Organization Idea in the Context of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management. International Journal of Contemporary Management, 12, 97–109.
U.S. Department of the Treasury. (2021, November 4). Emergency Rental Assistance Program. https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/coronavirus/assistance-for-state-local-and-tribal-governments/emergency-rental-assistance-program
 All five municipalities have a renter rate that is higher than 60%, and three (Elizabeth, Newark, Jersey City) are more than 70% renter cities. At least half of residents in four cities are considered low income, meaning they have incomes below 50% of the area median income. Jersey City has a smaller share of low-income people (35%) but has a renter rate above 70%. In addition, these cities all have poverty rates more than twice as high as the state average, and three cities (Newark, Trenton, Camden) have median incomes that are less than half of New Jersey’s. Cities with large renter populations who are constrained by incomes are particularly vulnerable to eviction. Data were pulled from the U.S. Census, and HUD. Click here to review a comprehensive list of the data collected by our research team.