Thousands of Californians in limbo as eviction protections end

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Eviction protections for thousands of California households still awaiting payments from the state’s multi-billion dollar rent relief program expired on Thursday.

Since September 2020, Legislature has passed and Governor Gavin Newsom has signed four laws protecting tenants who were unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19 from eviction. The most recent extension protected tenants through June 30 who had applied for rent relief from the state’s $5 billion program by the March 31 deadline, but had not yet received a response or payment. These tenants can now be brought to justice by their landlords.

“It’s very unlikely they’ll get all of these requests by June 30, when the eviction protections expire,” said Sarah Treuhaft, vice president of research at nonprofit PolicyLink. which reviewed the state’s rent relief program. press conference this week. “That means they are likely to be evicted and could possibly get housing assistance.”

Debra Carlton, chief lobbyist for the California Apartment Association, said she asked her members not to take their tenants with pending claims to court.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development, which administers the program through a contractor, said July 1 that it had approved all complete applications from eligible tenants. Geoffrey Ross, deputy director in charge of the program, said they were still processing 13,000 applications that lacked documentation or represented an appeal following a refusal. They expect to clear all pending requests by early August.

The rent relief program paid 339,000 households an average of $11,000, totaling nearly $4 billion, according to the state. public data dashboard. Checks will soon be on their way to around 16,000 approved households this week.

The gap between completed and approved applications has narrowed significantly over the past week as case management has intensified. On June 30, the program’s dashboard showed that approximately 404,000 people had applied. Late this morning, following the original publication of this story, the dashboard was updated to show just 352,000 completed requests. Ross said more than 70,000 applicants were dropped from the queue and issued rejections due to account inactivity. Those candidates whose applications were incomplete were contacted at least three times and given at least 20 days to respond, several times longer, he said.

Using data from June 23, PolicyLink, which reviewed weekly state program data through Public Record Act requests, found more than 28,000 initial applicants and 57,000 who reapplied have yet to hear back from the program. The housing department’s Ross said the data, although produced by the state, had “flaws in interpretation,” but declined to comment on specifics.
Horne LLP, a Mississippi-based accounting firm specializing in disaster relief, will receive a maximum of $278 million to distribute federal rent relief funds capped at $4.5 billion, according to a renewal of contract dated April 1 that CalMatters obtained through the Public Records Act. June 17. The Housing Department was unable to say how much the company had been paid to date.

State Assemblyman Buffy Wicks, Democrat of Oakland and co-author of the latest expansion, acknowledged that the program was “incredibly frustrating.” She said the state housing department assured her eligible claims would be paid.

“I think it’s no secret that he had challenges,” she said. “And while I am sensitive to some of the challenges that we have faced as a state government in dealing with a global pandemic that none of us anticipated, it is also our job as a state government. work well, especially when you’re talking about essential social safety nets.

But there’s a silver lining for tenant advocates. A key part of the now expired law was the preemption of stricter local measures against eviction, many of which will now come into force, including in Los Angeles County.

The state faces at least two lawsuits over the program from tenant rights advocates, who say it has denial of financing to eligible tenants and does not cover the amount of rental debt initially promised.

More than 135,000 people — nearly a third of all households — who have applied for rent relief have had their applications rejected as of June 17, according to data CalMatters obtained from the housing department through the law. in public records. This number has increased in recent weeks as the program winds down. The lawsuit, which cites the same set of data, says tenants receive little or no explanation for their refusals, making it difficult to challenge the final decision.

“Tenants are being threatened with eviction even as their landlords receive these giant checks and tenants eligible for assistance are denied these cryptic notices that don’t tell them why. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, one of the groups suing the state over the program.

Ross of the Housing Department was unable to provide specific numbers on denials, but said about half of applicants are denied ineligibility: either they make too much money or they don’t. do not reside in a location covered by the state program, have requested a period of time outside of program guidelines, or have been unable to demonstrate their location or the impact of the pandemic on their ability to pay the rent. The other half of denials were due to incomplete or inactive applications. He said an unknown number of claims were fraudulent or had been submitted multiple times.

He said tenants with incomplete applications are told which section they need to provide additional evidence, but are not limited to specific documents. He also said they were given instructions on how to contact their case managers for help.

Wicks said the latest state budget, approved this week, includes nearly $2 billion to repay the state for a line of credit opened earlier this year to pay tenants who submitted applications by March 31, though it does not include any new fund for rent relief. The program covered rent for up to 18 months between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2022 for low-income tenants who were financially impacted by COVID-19.

Cal Matters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media company explaining California policies and politics.

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