Tenants who are behind on their rental payments in at least four California cities have been unable to apply for emergency rental assistance as local program administrators closed the application process in order to work through a backlog. The move has left thousands of tenants with growing debts to their landlords and no clear legal recourse to remain in their homes when the state and local eviction moratoria expire.
“We’re really being blindsided here by the whole situation,” said Los Angeles resident Mike Lobos-Hayes, who is about $8,000 behind on rent after he and his husband both lost income during the pandemic. “Nobody is communicating with us.”
Los Angeles stopped taking applications at the end of April. Long Beach suspended its program on July 11 but reopened it on Aug. 11, a day after being contacted by BuzzFeed News for this story. “The reopening is because the City has recently received and secured additional state and federal funding,” a Long Beach spokesperson said. Irvine, which closed applications for the local program months ago, is now in the process of joining the state’s program, a time-consuming process that involves transferring data from its local system. In Anaheim, applications for tenants closed in March and are now only open to landlords, who have not always been willing to participate in rental assistance programs. A spokesperson for Anaheim said that the city is still reviewing applications submitted in the winter but would reopen the process to tenants possibly by the end of this month.
Not being able to apply for emergency rental assistance (ERA) harms renters in two ways: Not only are they unable to access relief funds to pay down their housing debt, but these tenants also miss out on extended legal protection. California courts are prohibited from taking up eviction cases against people who have filed for emergency assistance until a determination has been made about their aid application through March 2022; in contrast, people who have not filed for emergency rental assistance are only protected by the state’s eviction ban through Sept. 30 or until the local ban expires, said Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for California’s Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency. The federal ban on evictions ends on Oct. 3.