- Business Advocacy
The pandemic has been crushing for low-income tenants in California and has caused financial strain on property owners who haven’t been able to collect rent and have their own bills to pay. Local and state eviction protections have helped many people stay housed but, eventually, the rent will be due.
California's rent relief program, called Housing Is Key, was established by state lawmakers in January when they passed Senate Bill 91, which also extended the statewide eviction moratorium through June 30. As of June 28, 2021, Gov. Newsom and state legislative leaders have agreed upon a deal shielding tenants from evictions through Sept 30.
Both tenants and landlords with low-income tenants who have fallen behind on rent because of the pandemic can apply for relief. The new bill, AB 832, allows tenants and landlords to receive 100% of the back rent. That’s an increase from the previous program, where landlords could only receive 80% of what they were owed and had to agree to forgive the remaining 20%. Landlords or tenants who have already applied or received funding will automatically have their payments go up to 100%.
Tenants can now also apply directly for relief if their landlord does not respond or chooses not to participate if they swear under penalty of perjury that the money will go toward paying off rent debt. Before, if a landlord refused to participate, tenants could only get 25% of their debt forgiven.
The program to distribute $5.2 billion in federal funds opened for applications on March 15, but that money has gone out extremely slowly. While billions have been available since January, the state has distributed only $61.6 million in relief to a little more than 5,000 households so far. That’s just about 10% of the total aid that people have applied for.
“The delays in payment are due to problems with the Department of Housing and Community Development's anti-fraud system and to ensure there were no duplicate payments,” said Jessica Hayes, a program specialist with HCD. She said they first prioritized sending assistance to people with the lowest incomes but have started expanding the program to more people.
“We've been able to increase the number of households we're processing through the application each week,” she said, “and we expect that to continue to ramp up.”
Applicants have also complained of a clunky and cumbersome system and the lack of translation for non-English speakers as factors inhibiting people from applying. In response, HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez said the state has now streamlined the application, making it more user friendly, and has added more languages, including simplified Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog.