There are only a few days left for Californians who have fallen behind on their rent due to the COVID-19 outbreak to apply for rent assistance.
As the application period nears its conclusion on Thursday, tenant organizers are frantically trying to sign up as many applicants as possible. They are afraid that those who do not apply will be evicted shortly.
Edna Monroy, head of organizing for Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, stated, “We’re concerned” (SAJE). It’s hard to imagine how many more folks will not be able to apply.
The state’s March 31 application deadline was less than a week away, and Monroy was already threading his way past rows of pop-up tents in a South Los Angeles parking lot Monroy sat at fold-out tables with staff slumped over laptops, assisting residents in submitting last-minute petitions for rent assistance.
Throughout the pandemic, SAJE has held these in-person application clinics. At its maximum, previous clinics attracted 45 people. “We’re expecting over 100,” Monroy remarked of the attendance on this occasion. “This is the largest clinic we have.”
The state’s March 31 deadline also provides the final opportunity for many tenants to take advantage of essential eviction protections, making today an unusually busy day.
Eviction proceedings against non-paying tenants without local eviction safeguards might begin on Friday, according to state law. If a deal can be struck, eviction protections will be extended through June 30 for residents who have pending rent relief applications.
In order to get as many individuals into the system as possible before it’s too late, Monroy planned to work a 12-hour day.
“We’re really encouraging folks to apply to the program because it gives an affirmative defense against eviction,” Monroy added.
There are many renters who are not aware of the looming due date.
Some renters explained to the SAJE application clinic staff that they were only there because they had recently fallen behind on their rent and needed to apply.
Another reason why some people required assistance was the lack of access to computers at their residence (applications can only be submitted online at HousingIsKey.com). Some had to overcome language obstacles, while others had never heard of the program before this point.
There are a lot of issues I’m having, and I hope SAJE can help me,” Lynwood tenant Valerie Flores said in Spanish.
While caring for her small son, who has special needs, Flores was unable to work and fell behind on her rent by roughly a month and a half. After hearing about it from a friend, she went to the application clinic. Flores lucked out because she had no idea the deadline for applications was March 31.
If I don’t pay, I’ll be kicked out, my landlord warned me. The fact that she has two children makes her fear she won’t be taken in by other landlords in Los Angeles.
Tenants face eviction because of long waits and processing errors.
Flores is a newbie in the rental market. Others, on the other hand, have been waiting for months or even a year for their applications to be approved.
A Mid-City renter, Jenise Dixon, described her experience with Los Angeles’ rental assistance program as “disappointing.” Dixon originally applied for the program in March 2021. Afterward, when the city’s troubled program was taken over by the state, she applied once more.
She is still waiting for approval as of the end of March.
‘I don’t know what people are doing with all the money,’ Dixon remarked. ‘We shouldn’t have to wait this long,’ I said.
It wasn’t until February that Dixon learned she couldn’t get state rent assistance until a copy of her rental agreement was attached.
To prove her residency, Dixon provided utility bills and a rent ledger. Her lease had expired 19 years ago, and she had not received an updated copy since she moved into her Midtown apartment.
He described himself as “in limbo,” saying of his situation: “I have a landlord that is incredibly pushy in wanting me out. Right now, I’m going through the eviction process. “So there are yet more stressors to add to the list.”
According to a state housing department official, Dixon’s caseworker was incorrect – residents are not required to produce a copy of a formal contract as part of the rent reduction program. Finally, Dixon’s application was approved just one day after we contacted the state.
Waiting for L.A. Rent Relief Funding for the vast majority of applicants
Due to a lack of funds, eligibility concerns, or the state’s own processing faults, the vast majority of applicants have been denied.
One of them is Juan Gutierrez. For the past four or five months, he explained, he’d been on the waiting list.
Gutierrez lives with his partner and stepdaughter in a South Los Angeles condo. He lost his job as an insurance agent after falling ill with COVID-19 and being out of commission for four weeks. It has been more than a month since his landlord presented him with a notice of eviction for not paying his rent.
There is a lot of pain,”Gutierrez admitted. A three-year-old is in my care.” To see him in pain breaks my heart.”
According to a study from USC and PolicyLink researchers with the National Equity Atlas, more than 150,000 households in L.A. County have not yet received rent relief. That’s about 60 percent of L.A. applicants who are still waiting.
Last-Minute Sacramento Vote Could Extend Some Protections, Repeal Others
If California lawmakers get their way on a bill now working its way through the legislature, pending applicants will still have protections from eviction after the state’s rent relief program closes on April 1.
But what happens to tenants who miss the application deadline? Or those who can’t pay their rent for the month of April?
Depending on where those tenants live in L.A., their fate may be determined by a last-minute vote in Sacramento.
California legislators have tweaked and extended eviction protections multiple times throughout the pandemic, resulting in a confusing patchwork of rules governing who can be evicted, when, and for what reason.
Now, they’re voting on AB 2179, which would protect existing rent relief applicants from eviction through June 30. That decision would give the state more time to fund applicants who’ve been waiting without those applicants having to fear eviction over non-payment of rent.
However, because of a provision in AB 2179 that preempts certain local ordinances, tenants in parts of L.A. County who were set to receive protections over non-payment of rent (whether or not they had applied for rent relief) may no longer get those protections starting April 1.
That has put some tenant groups in the unusual position of opposing a bill presumably written to protect tenants.
“AB 2179 threatens to repeal stronger local protections against eviction for non-payment of rent already passed in San Francisco and across Los Angeles County (outside the city of Los Angeles proper),” María Guadalupe Arreola and Shanti Singh with the statewide organization Tenants Together said in a statement Monday.
“We should not be arbitrarily forced to accept limited protections for some tenants while taking away protections from others.”
The city of L.A. has eviction safeguards that are set to continue well beyond 2023. For now, those appear to be secure from alteration under AB 2179.
Patricia Mendoza, an organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said that all tenants in the state should have the same level of rights as those living in Los Angeles.
Mendoza wants tenants to submit their applications by March 31 — a timeframe that will remain unchanged even if the extension is approved — while lawmakers smooth out the kinks.
I can’t stress it enough,” Mendoza remarked. “Apply, apply, apply if you owe rent.”