California’s emergency rent relief program ($2.6 billion in total ) is designed to help tenants pay for their housing and help the state avoid high levels of eviction statewide. The program is especially relevant as June 30, the expiration date for the state eviction moratorium, inches closer.
Californians have applied for $473 million, but only $20 million has been paid out so far, according to the state, which is launching a number of changes to simplify the application process and get more money out the door faster.
A survey released on May 25 shows that many Californians face significant access issues in seeking rent relief. While the effectiveness of the programs depends on people accessing them, that access has been limited by technological barriers, language barriers, issues obtaining documentation, other debts and fear of harassment, the survey states.
The recommended actions included strengthening and extending eviction protections by:
Extending eviction protections until the economy has fully rebounded for low-wage workers and the state has distributed available rental assistance funds.
Prohibiting landlords from collecting from tenants unpaid rent that they can get through the rental assistance program.
Protecting tenants from negative credit reporting that will deny them housing and credit in the future.
They also recommended removing barriers to rental assistance programs by:
Getting rid of policies that disproportionately impact people of color, immigrants and Native Americans, such as written lease and other documentation requirements, and eligibility based on landlord participation and debt owed to the landlord.
Investing deeply in community-based, linguistically-appropriate outreach and applications assistance, especially to reach those with low digital access.
Encouraging prioritization of outreach and eligibility in neighborhoods with the highest rates of housing instability and COVID-19 impacts.
According to a report by CalMatters, the state pledged to fix some of those barrier issues. Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, said application websites in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog will be available as soon as this week.
The CBCSH website has COVID-19 Rent Relief materials available in English, Spanish, Chinese, simplified Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Tagalog as of May 28. The webpage with those materials is available in English and Spanish, with a Google Translate tab that allows users to translate some aspects of the website into other languages.
The website also lists a phone hotline that renters can call for assistance, (833) 430-2122, with options in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Filipino. The hotline is available daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Heimerich also told CalMatters that the state intends to issue a second, simpler rental relief application, one that would request less documentation of pandemic-related income losses and would take less time to fill out.
“We’re still going to check that we don’t have any inmates applying or any dead people applying,” Heimerich said, referencing extensive fraud that has contributed to a backlog of claims at the Employment Development Department.
In the meantime, the CityServe organization offers assistance to landlords and tenants who want to apply for California COVID-19 Rent Relief Program funds.
Risk of Displacement
“We are at risk of displacement now, and we have been for every day since April 2020,” said Jaylynn Bailey, a Pasadena film and television writer who has fallen behind on rent during the pandemic.
Bailey said that, despite her access to a printer and scanner, and a successful application for unemployment insurance payments, she struggled with the rental relief application in Los Angeles County and had to ask a local resource center for help. In the meantime, she believes her landlord has hired a private detective to monitor her activity.
“Now we’re just waiting for the [eviction order] coming on July 1,” Bailey said.
In more significant news for tenants behind on their rent, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed increasing the reimbursement from 80% to 100%, which would no longer require landlord participation in rent relief.
“We would take the landlords who refused to participate out of the equation,” Heimerich said.
The proposal still needs legislative approval, as will budget trailer bills to extend the eviction moratorium, which ends on June 30.
Sources: NBC Los Angeles: CalMatters