Tenants are concerned with eviction moratorium being lifted in California

A limited three-month extension of California’s eviction moratorium expires at midnight Thursday, despite opposition from tenant attorneys saying the state still hasn’t done enough to keep tenants housed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legislators in March moved the expiration date of the eviction moratorium April 1 through July 1 for California renters who applied for the state’s rent assistance program in late March. That extension also gave the Department of Housing and Community Development more time to clear a backlog of applications and make payments to thousands of tenants who still had not received aid.

Of the 404,313 household applications received, the department has processed 329,327 so far, according to the state’s report. rent relief dashboard† The average aid per recipient totals $11,667 and the state has disbursed more than $3.8 billion in aid.

Madeline Howard, senior attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said thousands of vulnerable Californians could lose their homes as of Friday. Howard is one of the attorneys in two lawsuits that a coalition of tenant advocacy groups has filed against the Department of Housing and Community Development after it closed the application portal.

A lawsuit alleges that the state “deficient administration” of the rental tool “violates the due process rights of tenants and disproportionately harms tenants based on race, color and national origin, leading to unnecessary evictions,” while another claims the state does not cover the amount of rent debt promised by state law. The coalition is also seeking data related to the department’s denial process.

“I wish things had gotten better,” Howard said. “The program has been very problematic from the start. … This was a huge investment of public resources, and it could have made so much more of a difference and reach so many more vulnerable people than it has because of the way it’s been treated.”

The lifting of the moratorium marks the end of more than two years of legislative action to keep struggling Californians at home during the pandemic. The moratorium technically ended at the end of September, but landlords could only demand eviction if they applied for financial aid for their tenant.

The state received a total of $5.2 billion in federal funding last year to set up its rental lighting program. The Department of Housing and Community Development was responsible for spending about half of that money, while local governments that chose to set up their own systems distributed the rest.

But a series of bureaucratic challenges hampered application processing and the state’s ability to disburse aid quickly, and the large number of applicants demanded more money than California received for its program. The state applied for an additional $1.9 billion from the US Treasury Department to help pay for the additional requests for assistance.

Spokesperson Alicia Murillo said in an emailed statement that the housing department “improved and refined the assessment and approval process.” The agency stepped up its outreach, working with local organizations to help applicants with outstanding tasks, Murillo said, and tweaked the application review process to ensure fraudulent submissions don’t get help.

“Holding Californians has been and will remain at the heart of our work on this program,” Murillo said.

Assembly member Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat and one of the drafters of the emergency bill to extend the moratorium, said she is still concerned about struggling tenants, but has been assured that “every qualifying application will be funded.” Wicks said the California General Fund could provide another financing option if needed, and local governments could set their own moratorium once the state ends.

“I’m concerned about how tenants are in California, but frankly, I was concerned before COVID,” Wicks said, adding that lawmakers should now focus even more on producing more affordable housing and ensuring access to them. .

“That makes wider policy work on housing even more critical,” Wicks said.

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