WASHINGTON The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Tuesday took steps to allow local communities to start tapping a $5 billion fund for creation of affordable housing and services for the half million people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The fund was created as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed in March by President Joe Biden to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many large U.S. cities have seen a spike in homeless numbers during the global pandemic, compounding a growing problem, and U.S. officials fear the situation could get worse after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal moratorium on evictions.

"There is no time to wait to assist the more than half a million Americans on any given night who are enduring this pandemic in crowded shelters or on the streets," HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said in a statement.

A new HUD notice released Tuesday would allow communities to gain quicker access to the fund.

Under regular guidelines, applicants must wait for funds until their allocation plans are completed and approved. But HUD will now allow grantees to get 5% up front, with the remaining funds to follow once their plans are accepted.

HUD said the change would help address homelessness in extremely low-income households, including through tenant-based rental assistance and acquisition and development of shelter units.

HUD reported in March that 580,466 people experienced homelessness in the United States on a single night in 2020, up 2.2 percent from 2019. Its annual report found people of color were significantly over-represented among those experiencing homelessness.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Richard Pullin)