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Housing and Homelessness

Where’s My Rent Relief? LA Slow To Provide Promised Aid

A woman walking down the sidewalk on La Brea Ave in May 2020 passes a building with graffiti that reads "forgive our rent."
Graffiti on a building on La Brea Avenue in May 2020.
( Valerie Macon
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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Many L.A. renters who lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic are still deep in debt to their landlords. But throughout Southern California, hundreds of millions of dollars available for rent relief have not been disbursed.

California has put $5.2 billion in federal funding toward rent relief programs across the state. The goal is to pay off rental debt accrued by low-income tenants during the pandemic so they won’t be kicked out of their homes once the state’s eviction moratorium expires.

However, the state has distributed only a small fraction of that rent relief money.

In many parts of the state, cities and counties have chosen to administer this rent relief on their own. We asked local governments how much money they’ve put into the hands of renters and their landlords. The responses show that, so far, governments across Southern California have failed to deliver the bulk of their funding to households in need.

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For example, the latest figures from the city of L.A.’s rent relief program show that only about 7% of current funding has been distributed. Other cities aren’t faring much better.

With promised aid slow to reach tenants and landlords, Governor Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers extended the state’s eviction moratorium this week. Tenants who could have faced eviction for non-payment of rent after June 30 will now have protections through Sept. 30.

The extension gives local governments more time to pay off rental debt for low-income households, avoiding a potential wave of homelessness. The state’s last-minute deal may have eased fears of an eviction tsunami this summer. But tenants remain worried about whether their rent relief applications will be approved — and property owners say they’re again stuck shouldering an unfair burden.

‘I’m Not Getting A Lot Of Answers’

“This should have been over a long time ago,” said Irma Vargas with the Los Angeles property management company RST & Associates.

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Vargas said her company has applied for rent relief on behalf of about 150 L.A.-area tenants who fell behind on some or all of their rent during the pandemic. So far, she’s received tentative approval for just three households — but has yet to receive any money.

She said the city of Los Angeles hasn’t provided updates about her applications, which means she can’t reassure property owners that help is on the way.

“They’re just frustrated, because they're not getting any answers,” Vargas said. “I can only give them the answers that I get. And I'm not getting a lot of answers.”

For A Struggling Single Mom, 'A Scary Time'

Tenants are also anxiously waiting for rent relief to come through.

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Kelli Lloyd, a single mother of two in Baldwin Hills, said she stopped receiving child support payments at the start of the pandemic. By May 2020, she could no longer afford to pay the rent on her two-bedroom apartment.

“It has been a scary time,” Lloyd said. “We have, as a family, depended on the extensions and the moratoriums. It's been quite a relief to know that there is help available.”

Earlier this year, Lloyd applied for the city of L.A.’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which launched on March 30 with $236 million in funding.

While hopeful that her application will be approved, Lloyd said the city has only reached out to ask her for more identity verification documents.

Aside from that, she said, “I haven't heard anything yet.”

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A women in a red t-shirt and black mask holds a sign above her head that read "CANCEL RENT" as other march with her.
The 2021 May Day march in Los Angeles.
(DAVID MCNEW
/
AFP via Getty Images)

A Staggering $1.2 Billion In L.A. Rental Debt

The local need for rent relief is staggering.

More than 255,000 households in L.A. County are behind on rent, with average debt reaching nearly $4,700, according to estimates by researchers with the USC Equity Research Institute and PolicyLink, who studied recent U.S. Census survey data.

All told, the researchers estimate that L.A. County households owe $1.2 billion in back rent.

In the city of Los Angeles, applications for rent relief have far outstripped available funding. Tenants and landlords have requested payments for $636 million in back rent, but the city started off with just $236 million to distribute.

More help should be on the way, housing department spokesperson Sandra Mendoza said in an email.

“[T]he city anticipates receiving an additional $193 million” from the American Rescue Plan Act, which went into effect in March, Mendoza said. With that second round of funding, she added, “we will come closer to meeting the rental assistance needs of L.A. renters.”

A Plan To Help The Poorest Applicants First

L.A. has limited its rent relief program to households earning no more than 50% of the area’s median income. For now, the city is prioritizing applicants who are “extremely low-income” — meaning those who make less than 30% of the area’s median income. For a family of four, that translates into an annual income of less than $33,800.

L.A. is not the only city struggling to get money out the door. Long Beach has dispersed less than four percent of its $51.4 million in funding. Santa Clarita has distributed about 7.5% from its $11.3 million rent relief program. And Santa Ana has paid out just under 13% of its $20.8 million.

Other municipalities have distributed relief more quickly. For instance, Orange County has handed out close to one-third of its $59 million, and the city of Riverside has already spent almost half of its nearly $10 million in funding.

After multiple inquiries, three other local governments administering local rent relief programs failed to provide us with performance numbers: the cities of Moreno Valley and San Bernardino, as well as the County of San Bernardino.

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An apartment building in Hollywood.
(Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Housing advocates say the process has been slow because applicants often need to submit multiple rounds of documents to demonstrate their eligibility, and some struggle to comply.

For example, some workers who typically get paid in cash have found it difficult to prove they lost income during the pandemic. Other applicants failed to adequately document the fact that they actually fell behind on rent.

In these situations, it takes time for the city to follow up with applicants and request further documentation, said Leona Rollins with the L.A. nonprofit Housing Rights Center. She has been helping the city of Los Angeles process its applications.

“We want to make sure that we give everybody ample opportunity to submit whatever documents they need to make their application whole, so that they could be deemed eligible,” Rollins said.

Rollins expressed hope that new rounds of federal funding — as well as the state’s extended eviction moratorium — will lead to local governments opening their rent relief programs to new applicants. She said the state is now giving tenants through March 2022 to apply for rental relief if they face an eviction, so there should be time to get money out.

Other changes are in the works. Originally, rent relief programs across California were offering to cover 80% of a tenant’s rental debt — as long as landlords agreed to waive the remaining 20%. However, under the state’s new deal, programs will be able to pay off 100% of rent accrued during the pandemic.

State-Run Relief Efforts Are Lagging, Too

Rent relief has been trickling out through many different programs, some run by local governments and others run by the state. State-run programs have also been slow in doling out money.

Los Angeles County opted to let the state administer its rent relief efforts. So far, the state has distributed about 13% of the money requested by county applicants.

Applicants in other areas have received even less funding from the state. In some areas, applicants have received nothing at all.

Based on the latest statistics provided to LAist, landlords and tenants in the cities and counties of Riverside and San Bernardino have received no money from the state-run rent relief effort.

What questions do you have about business and the economy in Southern California?
David Wagner focuses on Southern Californians getting left behind in an economy beset by soaring unemployment, pandemic-related business closures and high housing costs.