By Vanessa Swales, Wisconsin Watch

Gov. Tony Evers in February launched the Wisconsin Emergency Rental Assistance (WERA) program, which aims to distribute $322 million in federal stimulus funds to struggling renters statewide. Qualifying Wisconsin residents can receive up to a year of help paying current or overdue rent or utility bills.

Here is what renters should know. 

Who is eligible?

At least one person in a household must meet the these criteria: 

  • Qualifies for unemployment or has lost income, incurred significant costs or experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Shows a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability;
  • Has a household income at or below 80% of their county’s median income. Unemployment compensation counts as income. 
  • Is a resident of Wisconsin but does not need to be a U.S. citizen.

How much aid is available?

WERA has no cap on assistance. It offers help paying current or past rent or utility bills dating back to March 13, 2020. The program offers up to 12 months of assistance, plus an extra three months — if funds are available and they are necessary to ensure housing stability.

Where do I apply?

The Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP) coordinates the program through its member agencies. Most agencies offer online applications, but some instruct applicants to send an email requesting a WERA application. Apply at the agency that serves your county, as outlined below: 

WERA does not cover some larger communities, which run their own federally funded programs. Those include Brown, Dane, Milwaukee and Waukesha counties and the cities of Madison and Milwaukee. Here’s where renters there can go: 

  • Newcap serves Brown County’s and can be reached at 800-242-7334. 
  • Community Advocates serves Waukesha and Milwaukee counties and can be reached online or at 414-270-4646.
  • The Social Development Commission serves the city of Milwaukee and can be reached online or at 414-906-2700. 
  • Tenant Resource Center serves Madison and surrounding Dane County. It can be reached online or at 608-257-0006.

What does the application process look like?

Instructions vary between agencies. Most agencies will ask you to first apply for the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program, whose application serves as an intake form for rental assistance. Applications may be taken by phone or email. Renters and landlords must submit and sign a Renter Verification form. Landlords must also register as a vendor in Wisconsin’s Home Energy Plus system to be paid. Renters must also provide these documents:

  • Proof that COVID-19 impacted your household income; 
  • Proof that your household over the previous month was no more than 80% of the county median income — or 2020 IRS tax records;
  • A current lease, agreement, or proof (such as check payments) that the applicant resides in Wisconsin.

Agency staff determines eligibility and will call, email or text updates. 

How long will it take to get a payment?

According to WISCAP, 10 days or less.

Can I still get evicted by my landlord while my application is being processed?

A pending WERA application can’t legally stop an eviction. But landlords must agree not to initiate an eviction during the period in which they are receiving WERA payments, according to WISCAP.

Will my data be protected?

WISCAP says all client data are confidential and never shared.

What if I’m undocumented, a non-citizen or have no Social Security number?

WERA funds come from the federal government, and Congress left eligibility open to non-citizens — including those who lack Social Security numbers or are undocumented. Neither states nor local governments may impose their own immigration restrictions in lieu of the federal government, according to a National Housing Law Project fact sheet.

Wisconsin residents can apply for WERA as long as they meet income-related requirements. Some WERA intake documents ask for Social Security numbers, but program officials say applicants can leave that section blank.

Applicants will not be asked about their immigration status at any point during the process.

Accepting rental assistance should not harm an immigrant’s application for legal status under the concept of the “public charge,” legal experts say.

What other programs help undocumented residents?

Some community groups are offering additional support for undocumented immigrants.

Groups in Dane County, for instance, launched the Latino Consortium for Action Emergency Relief Fund, which helps undocumented Latinx workers and small immigrant-owned businesses.

Voces de la Frontera and the Racine Interfaith Coalition distribute funds for undocumented workers affected by COVID-19 in Racine and statewide.

This story was produced by Wisconsin Watch, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative reporting organization that focuses on government integrity and quality of life issues in Wisconsin. 

Wisconsin Watch ( collaborates with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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