SACRAMENTO, California. † Eviction protections for rent cuts in California will expire at the end of June, which could negatively affect the tens of thousands still waiting for a response or money from the state. COVID-19 rental emergency utility.
Dozens of tenants tell KTVU they fear losing their home despite applying, meeting income requirements, filing necessary documents, and waiting months for state aid payments to be approved.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to hit the streets,” said Los Angeles renter Mario Martinez. “The landlord has been more than patient and has worked with me through it all and I keep telling him to hang on, it’s coming.”
The program will stop accepting new applications in March, but many households say their application is still being assessed data from the Ministry of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
National Equity Atlas, which analyzed statewide data, found as of June 23, that more than 85,000 renter households are awaiting review of the application. More than 28,000 of these are initial applicants and more than 57,000 have applied for additional assistance.
That backlog has been a persistent problem for months.
The state promised in march it would process and pay for approved applications by July 1.
At the current pace, PolicyLink Research Vice President Sarah Treuhaft said the chances of that happening are slim.
“If it doesn’t keep that promise, if people wait that long for help and then they’re evicted for waiting — that’s a failure,” she said.
Treuhaft kept a close eye on the program and found that one in three households faced imminent eviction when they applied.
With the remaining Statewide eviction protections for rent assistance applicants expiring on June 30, those still waiting could be evicted for rent debts that the program could eventually cover.
There are growing fears housing and homelessness crisis will worsen if the program is not extended.
“The promise of this program was immense…to free up people’s rents to allow for an equitable recovery,” Treuhaft said. “It’s up to them [the state] to fix the issues with the program so it can deliver on that promise.”
HCD declined KTVU’s repeated interview requests. But a spokesman said the rent reduction program has paid out more than $3.8 billion dollars to more than 320,000 low-income households.
Earlier this month, HCD was sued by several community organizations and accused of wrongly refusing numerous housing assistance applications, despite more than 90% meeting income requirements.
“People who qualify for housing assistance are being hurt by these denials,” said Western Center on Law and Poverty attorney Madeline Howard, who leads the lawsuit. “I think there’s a lack of understanding of how fast evictions go and how many people face evictions because they don’t get the rent assistance on time.”
Data and analysis show a skyrocketing spike in denials for several weeks while HCD has tried to improve processing. Nearly 158,000 statewide were turned down, which is about one in three applicants, according to National Equity Atlas.
KTVU has heard of struggling tenants all saying they don’t know exactly why they were turned down.
Many of them provided documents that HCD repeatedly claimed was the result of “inconsistent or unverifiable information” or “multiple attempts at contact… but no response was received…”
“People get these messages and they say, ‘What? I don’t understand why. Why am I being rejected?’ Because the state doesn’t really tell the people,” Howard said. “And that makes it hard for them to challenge the decision.”
While applicants have 30 days to appeal a denial, some have reported never getting a response to their appeal.
“They promised to have a system that they would help the people through,” said tenant Natasha Ayala. “They haven’t helped the people. They ignored the people.’
HCD did not respond or answer specific questions and instead sent a statement that read in part:
“We are committed to processing all remaining applications. Applications are processed based on the responsiveness of applicants who submit any documents or information requested. This program is designed as a temporary support and we stand by the work Californians during the Covid19 pandemic.”
There are currently no plans to extend the state interest deduction or expand the program.
Housing advocates are calling for permanent tenant protection to prevent a rise in evictions and homelessness.
Brooks Jarosz is an investigative journalist for KTVU. Email him at [email protected] and follow him facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU