State acts to speed up rent relief application process

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — State housing officials have hired managers to accelerate rent relief applications for the emergency program that covers 100% of due rent for tenants impacted by COVID-19, and rolled out a list of protections for renters and landlords in various languages at the program’s website.

Housing and Community Development Director Gustavo Velasquez said the $5.2 billion provided under Assembly Bill 832, the law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month that expanded coverage to 100% of rent missed due to health and economic woes produced by the pandemic from April 2020 to September 2021, are being disbursed faster to landlords and renters.

“It’s a big step in the economic recovery the governor and the state legislature want to see in our state,” Velasquez said during a virtual briefing. “The California comeback program provides immediate resources to low-income tenants to pay back rent.”

Velasquez said the improvements made at the portal recently offer low-income applicants, tenants with disabilities and renters unable to speak English a better experience navigating for resources that help them meet the criteria to qualify for the aid in the language they understand.

Through July 23, the program has disbursed $180 million in direct rental payments to low- and medium-income tenants who have felt the effects of the pandemic.

Of the beneficiaries, Velasquez said 62% were medium- to low-income renters, 32% filed as low- or extremely low- income earners, and 63% of the household applicants are women.

Data available on the program’s website indicated that $1.05 billion in rent relief had been requested through July 16, and 76,385 applications had been completed with an average payout of $14,484 per household.

A total of 112,491 applications for rent aid had been received and 10,926 disbursements were completed.

Velasquez encouraged tenants to fill in rent relief applications while funds last, and underscored the funds support housing stability in communities of color greatly impacted by the still ongoing pandemic.

“We must continue to do better,” Velasquez said. “Ask for help and continue to express urgency for people to apply.”

Housing development specialist Jessica Hayes said the agency is committed to helping tenants cover missed rent through Sept. 31.

“We want to make sure we help as many households be as stable as they can,” Hayes said. “Our goal is to make sure [the application process] is accessible to folks in their language.”

She told media and community representatives to tell applicants not to give up if they find difficulties online, and said paper applications can be downloaded. If they have doubts about filing procedures, or do not have access to WiFi and computers with printers, call (833) 687-0967 for assistance and further explanation.

Hayes underscored that the immigration status of all applicants is confidential, the information gathered is private and is solely used for the rent relief program. She encouraged the elderly, people with disabilities or applicants not proficient in English to add a designee to translate and move the process forward.

“Our intent is to continue to operate this program until there are no pennies left,” Hayes said.

The announcements comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by three law firms against the Department of Housing and Community Development accusing the agency of ignoring disabled, elderly and non-English speaking tenants and of not following state and federal codes.

Advancing Justice Asian Law Caucus, Bet Tzedek and Disability Rights California attorneys filed the complaint to have the agency revamp its website and make it accessible to those applicants, and provide support to older tenants and landlords without technology tools such as a personal computer, internet and email accounts.

Usually, a renter must submit either a copy of the most recent tax returns, copies of W2 or 1099G tax forms or current pay stubs as well as any proof of enrollment with CalFresh or CalWORKS  for 2020 and 2021.

To get the funds, landlords need to provide copies of the rental contract with the tenant’s name, address and monthly rent due, a ledger or statement with the unpaid rent balance from April 1, 2020, and W-8 or W-9 tax forms.

Any rent relief awarded to cover back rent under AB 832 does not count as income, the portal says.

In addition, Hayes said her department is working with municipalities and counties to bring their own rental assistance programs in line with Housing Is Key and ensure they are consistent as part of a streamlined plan if eviction cases are filed in the courts for unpaid rent.

AB 832 bars landlords from evicting tenants until after Sept. 31, but local attorneys specializing in housing have noted a rash of eviction notices for partial or none rent payments amid the pandemic, affecting tenants strapped of cash due to past business shutdowns, work furloughs, layoffs, change of jobs, illnesses and deaths.

Hayes said that tenants who receive cash disbursements to meet 100% of due rent have to forward the payments to their landlords within 15 days of deposit. To avoid legal discrepancies, landlords should be partners in the application process, she added.

The department and the website would provide additional assistance in pending arrears until April 1, Hayes concluded.

Before passage of AB 832, the state covered 80% of due rent with the caveat that landlords had to forgo the remaining 20%. If they refused to sign up, renters could apply for 25% of rent relief, pay the owner and embrace eviction protections through June 30.

About 79% of extremely low income area renters spend 50% or more of their income their salaries on housing, a stark reality that makes the wealth divide between high-income earners and low salary workers deeper.

“The California comeback program provides immediate resources to low-income tenants to pay back rent.”

— State Housing and Community Development

     Director Gustavo Velasquez