If you question the value of government relief in an economic crisis, listen to local stories of how such help enabled families to pay the landlord after the coronavirus cost them their jobs.

The accounts show why it’s vital both to continue such aid until the recession is behind us and to ensure that help is available to all who need it. Otherwise, the region risks what one nonprofit executive called “a cataclysmic wave of evictions” when governments lift the moratoriums on ousting renters from their homes.

Mohammad Ahmed, 30, gave up working as an Uber driver in March for fear of infecting his wife, 3-year-old son and two elderly parents who live with him. When he couldn’t pay the rent or electric bill for their two-bedroom apartment in Arlington, a local charity funded mainly by taxpayer dollars stepped in.

The nonprofit, Arlington Thrive, picked up his $1,259 monthly rent and $113 electric bill for three months this fall.

“It really felt like a blessing,” said Ahmed. “I didn’t know where to go.”

He’s still worried about his bills and has gone deeply into debt. But he’s counting on a state plan, the Virginia Rent Relief Program, to cover the rent until he can return to work.

Arlington Thrive, whose budget has grown fivefold in the past year due primarily to an influx of public funds, also rescued Alicia, 39. She is a single mother of three children, ages 5 to 15. She spoke on the condition that her full name not be used because she feared publicity might prevent her from returning to a D.C. hotel-management job from which she was furloughed in March.

She contacted the nonprofit in July. Arlington Thrive paid the $1,898 rent on her one-bedroom apartment from August through December.

“They’ve been a lifesaver,” said Alicia, who has applied for multiple jobs without success since being furloughed. “I suffered from severe anxiety. Imagine not knowing where you’re going to find money to pay your rent.”

Like Ahmed, she has applied to the state plan for further relief.

Their experiences illustrate why it was important for the federal government to approve the Cares Act relief package in March. Mainly because of those funds, total federal and county support for Arlington Thrive rose over the past year from nearly $1 million to $6.5 million. Private contributions climbed, too, from about $600,000 to over $1 million.

Government action at the federal, state and local levels has been critical to keeping tens of thousands of families in their homes in our region even though they cannot afford the rent. Authorities have imposed temporary moratoriums that bar landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment. An array of public and private programs has provided money to help tenants avoid falling too far behind on what they owe.

The D.C. government offers assistance via the Covid-19 Housing Assistance Program, Housing Stabilization Grants and other plans. Similar programs are available in Maryland.

Still, the need for assistance remains. The relief bill passed by Congress in December included $25 billion in emergency rental assistance, but housing experts said that would only temporarily prop up a shaky status quo.

Meanwhile, many tenants are falling further behind on their rent, and increasing numbers are at risk of eviction when moratoriums end.

“If there does not continue to be a significant outpouring of support from the states and federal government, when the eviction moratoriums end — and they will end — there will be a cataclysmic wave of evictions,” said Andrew F. Schneider, executive director of Arlington Thrive.

Said Peter Tatian, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute: “Theoretically, the assistance that the federal government is providing sort of matches up with where the rent shortfall is. The problem is the rent shortfall is a moving target … because we have a continuing economic crisis.”

In the District, the total of unpaid rent in January totaled between $66 million and $119 million, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies. It estimated that between 7,800 and 15,800 people were at risk of eviction when moratoriums end.

Figures were not available for the D.C. suburbs alone, but for Maryland as a whole, the rent shortfall ranged from $206 million to $381 million, and those at risk of eviction numbered between 38,000 and 71,400. In Virginia, the shortfall was between $266 million and $453 million, and between 42,800 and 86,500 were at risk of eviction.

A large number of renters who are eligible for help are not getting it for bureaucratic or other reasons. Many are not aware that aid is available or are wary of seeking it because they are undocumented immigrants.

One hurdle is a provision that the federal aid approved in December is available only to those who can provide pay stubs, bank statements or other paperwork to show they meet requirements such as that their income is sufficiently low to qualify for aid.

“The federal funds come with very high standards of documentation that some tenants simply can’t meet,” said Marian Siegel, executive director of Housing Counseling Services.

A sizable but unknown number of tenants have concluded that they will never be able to catch up on back rent and have left their homes to move in with family or friends — an action known in the industry as “self-eviction.”

This phenomenon is evident in a dramatic jump in apartment vacancy rates from below 5 percent normally to between 15 percent and 25 percent at present, according to Patrick Algyer, executive director of the Northern Virginia Apartment Association.

People “get so far behind on rent that they don’t know what to do, [so] they pack up and move,” Algyer said.

The high cost of housing was one of the region’s principal social ailments even before the coronavirus pandemic. Now the recession has made it worse.

Governments “need to keep the eviction and utility moratoria in place until we find a way to cancel the rents or have enough money in the city to pay what’s owed and keep people in their homes,” said Amber W. Harding, an attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

“I’ve been doing this work for 17 years,” she added. “And this is probably the most worried I have ever been.”