INGLEWOOD — The City Council will conduct a public hearing at 2 p.m. Oct. 20 to receive public comment for new additional rent relief funds received under the CARES Act to assist renters pay back owed rent. The council voted 4-0 to hold the public hearing.
In August, Mayor James T. Butts introduced an initiative to create two programs using funds provided for under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act from the U.S. Treasury Department and community development block grant coronavirus housing funds.
When the mayor initially proposed the rent relief program, he requested two months of back-owed rent be paid to landlords on behalf of Inglewood renters.
The city estimated that there were nearly 20,000 eligible residents who could potentially benefit from the programs, who would be selected based on a lottery. Priority would be given to the disabled and elderly.
Despite the city’s outreach efforts, fewer applications were received than anticipated.
According to a staff report dated Sept. 29, the Rent Relief program was aimed at providing relief for between 200 and 300 households. However, only 275 households applied.
Instead of using the additional $1,035,671 to help a potential additional 200 to 300 renters, the CDBG department requested to give the original applicants an additional month of rental assistance.
Calls to the city’s CDBG department were answered by a woman who said her name was Lori who stated the new funding was to expand the existing rent relief program and not to either extend or reopen a new application period with the additional funds.
Mayor Butts revised the total number of applications received during his closing remarks at the Oct. 13 City Council meeting.
“We had 248 people apply for the rent relief which pays up to three month’s rent,” Butts said.
Butts said 1,278 people applied for the city’s Debit Card Program and will receive a benefit of $1,000, up from the original $500.
Butts’ explanation confused those watching the meeting who recall the staff report detailing the city was fronting $1.275 million from the general fund for the debit card program, until it received separate funding from the U.S. Treasury Department.
Inglewood was initially approved for community development block grant coronavirus housing funds in the amount of $827,507 and a second round of funding in the amount of $1,035,671 was awarded to the city Sept. 11 for a total of $1,863,178
The city’s plan for the money is to give rent relief applicants an additional month of back rent paid, for a total of three months instead of two.
The purpose of the public hearing is to give members of the public an opportunity to provide feedback on how they want the funds spent. However, some residents are skeptical about speaking out.
“I was afraid to tell my story but I see my complaints to HUD, about my situation with the city of Inglewood, have resulted in me being blocked from every program in this city,” Sheila Scott said. “I’m over 65 and 69% of my body is injured so I qualify for the rent relief.”
She said she spoke with an Inglewood housing advisory member and thought she would be taken care of.
“Ms. Scott is a nice lady and I referred her to the Inglewood Housing Authority and thought they took care of her,” said Odest Riley Jr., who was appointed to the advisory board by Mayor Butts. “I really hope they can help her.”
Community members canvassed the city to provide forms for residents to complete and submit to the CDBG department, but remarked residents were hesitant to submit their personal information in fear of the mayor.
“The most unfortunate thing we found are people are not comfortable with this government and fear of retaliation of Butts,” said Billion Godsun, with the Africa Town Coalition. “With 20,000 rentals, way more people than 1,000 need the assistance.”
No explanation was given for the discrepancy in the number of applications that were received. Community members questioned the council’s intention to hold the public hearing in the middle of the day.
“I’m questioning why the public hearing on this rent relief program is being held during a time when people are at work and instead set aside an evening meeting to ensure more residents can participate in how the funds will be spent,” said Rick Ford, with the Lennox Inglewood Tenants Union.
The city declined to extend the application deadline and made no adjustments to the time of the hearing.
The city will accept written comments through Oct. 20 on how the funds will be spent. Comments can be mailed certified to the attention of Damian Pipkins, City of Inglewood, CDBG Division, 1 W. Manchester Blvd., #750, Inglewood, 90301, by fax to (310) 330-5756 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The city has until Dec. 30 to expend all funds received under the CARES Act.
2 Urban Girls is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Compton and Inglewood area. She can be reached at email@example.com.