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Housing and Homelessness

California Is Offering $5.2B In Rent Relief — Here’s How To Apply In Multiple Languages

The words "Forgive Our Rent" are spray-painted on an otherwise blank wall.
A graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Valerie Macon
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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California has a $5.2 billion pot of rent relief funds that could go a long way towards helping those who are financially struggling from the pandemic. The money can be used to make payments to landlords and avoid eviction.

One of the challenges now is getting the word out in a linguistically-diverse state where many people may not have heard about a recent development made possible by legislation: the income-eligible can get as much as 100% of back rent paid from April 2020 through this coming September.

Civil rights groups have faulted the state for not providing adequate language access to non-English speaking tenants and landlords, who can also seek funds. Up until late last month, much of the state Housing Is Key website relied on Google Translate, which led to inaccurate translations.

But recent changes made by the state should ease the application process for speakers of some of the most common non-English languages in California.

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“We now have a much better website than we did a few months ago, much more culturally competent in language,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a Wednesday event in Bell Gardens touting the rent relief program.

Eviction Moratorium Expires Soon

Those who don’t primarily use English stand to lose out on funds that will become even more critical with the state’s moratorium on evictions expiring Sept. 30. Newsom said extending the moratorium again was doubtful.

“The likelihood of moving beyond that diminishes every day, particularly as the economy comes roaring back as it has in the state, but not for everybody,” Newsom said.

The California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which oversees the program, said about $159 million has been disbursed to date. But demand has been growing in the several weeks since state lawmakers agreed to expand the rent relief program to $5.2 billion. The agency reports that the application rate has tripled to about 6,000 per week.

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Here are some of the channels to make rent relief more accessible to non-English speakers:

  • The Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency said that as of June 28, the website and tenant applications had been professionally translated into Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog. Professional translations of landlord applications should be ready in the coming week, said Veronica Harms, the agency’s deputy secretary of external affairs. Printable versions of the application in those languages are available here.
  • A new mobile service allows users to text “rent” to the number 211211. Users are then asked to complete a brief questionnaire in one of 11 languages to help them determine eligibility. In the Los Angeles-area, for example, a household of four making just under $95,000 could apply for funds.

  • In-language help is available over the phone at 1-833-430-2122. Interpreters speak Vietnamese, Mandarin, Spanish, Korean, Tagalog and Cantonese.
  • The state says it has expanded its network of community service organizations — many of which are providing in-language assistance on the rent relief program — to more than 100. Their help can be particularly useful to applicants who don’t have Internet access or computers. Go here to find an organization in your area.

Given that Californians speak more than 200 languages, many applicants will still be using Google Translate to apply for rent relief. A complaint filed June 25 against the state housing department by civil rights groups calls on the state to do better with language and disability access. (The Department of Fair Employment and Housing says the complaint is an open matter.)

“We also think that they need to do more than just six languages,” said Tiffany Hickey, a staff attorney with Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus. “California has a huge, very diverse population and there are a lot of other languages that people speak here.”

Hickey and other civil rights lawyers say that hurdles to the rent relief application process may have discouraged some non-English speakers to give up on seeking help. At some point in the spring, the “return” button on the site read as “Go back to your home country applicant” in Chinese.

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 Screenshot of erroneous translation on a website by Google Translate telling applicants for rental assistance to "Go back to your country applicant"
Screenshot of erroneous translation by Google Translate
( Courtesy of Asian Law Caucus)

Inaccurate translations by Google, said Charles Evans of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, led some people “to, at best, think the system is broken, and at worst, think that this program is not going to assist them and walk away before it's done.”

One big change that’s guaranteed to help all applicants, regardless of English ability: the state has made the application a lot shorter.

What used to take some people hours is now supposed to average a half-hour to 45 minutes, thanks to autofill and reduced paperwork. For example, applicants can attest to COVID impact without having to show proof such as pay stubs, said Veronica Harms of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.

“We heard that was difficult for some people to provide,” Harms said. “Then we incorporated the self-attestment where you're signing under perjury that you have been impacted by COVID-19.”

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Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.