California’s emergency rental assistance program still struggles to provide money to tenants and landlords in need as COVID eviction protections end March 31 in most California cities.
According to a new analysis of the state program conducted by the National Equity Atlas, about 70,000 Bay Area tenants have been denied state aid to pay back rent. According to Siliconvalley, a little more than 20,000 applicants have been approved but are waiting for payment, and another 50,000 applicants are waiting for the review of their cases.
Just one out of every six tenants in the program has received assistance statewide, and the average wait time is four to six months, according to the analysis.
“If we allow protections to expire before people receive assistance, it will be a failure,” said PolicyLink’s vice president of research, Sarah Treuhaft.
According to state officials, far more households have been helped than the analysis suggests. Several of the approved case numbers marked as unpaid are waiting for the landlord or tenant to cash a check.
“We absolutely are the largest, most successful program in the country,” Geoffrey Ross of the Department of Housing and Community Development said.
A potential wave of displacement is on the horizon during the spring and summer months: COVID’s limited, statewide eviction protection ends March 31, and advocates fear evictions will spike in the spring and summer. Oakland’s eviction moratorium and other local protections are being challenged in court.
State aid has totaled more than $2.2 billion since the program opened a year ago. During the period between last April and March 31, 2022, the state has guaranteed to pay all eligible claims. Next month, the program will close.
“Every eligible applicant will get paid,” Ross assured.
Several payments have been delayed due to application reviews and vetting. There is a fear that the state pandemic unemployment program will repeat the rampant fraud, estimated at least $20 billion.
However, rental and landlord advocacy groups are urging the state to act more quickly.
According to Debra Carlton of the California Apartment Association, landlords want their money to move faster. Instead of going through an expensive and unpredictable eviction suit, they would prefer to receive rent.
Many property owners will wait for government assistance before turning to the courts, despite mounting losses.
“The small, mom and pops are in the most dire straits,” she said.
For struggling tenants, frustration is mixed with fear.
Despite the support of local charities, Rhonda Campbell fell behind on her rent in her San Jose townhouse during the pandemic. She has missed work due to illness and isn’t sure when she will be able to return full-time. Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County helped her apply to the state program, and she received three months’ rent to cover back expenses.
Her case has been pending for months since she applied for the second round of benefits. She received a notice from her landlord in December to pay or leave. Despite her desire to stay, Campbell is concerned. “It’s been awful,” she said. “I pray a lot.”