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PRESS RELEASE: Lawsuit Filed Against CA HCD for Violating Due Process Rights in Emergency Rental Assistance Program

For Immediate Release

Department denied 31 percent of rental relief applications without offering meaningful explanation of denial or a transparent appeals process

Oakland, CA – Community-based tenant organizations Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) along with research and action institute PolicyLink have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for administering the Emergency Rental Assistance Program in a way that is opaque and disproportionately harms tenants on the basis of race, color, and national origin. The suit also challenges HCD’s refusal to provide public records that would shed light on its administration of the program. The organizations are represented by Western Center on Law & Poverty, Public Counsel, and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

“Our analysis of the program data shows that denials have spiked since the program closed, and that 92 percent of denied applicants have incomes low enough to qualify them for the program,” said Sarah Treuhaft, vice president of research at PolicyLink. “So many renters have staked their families’ futures on this program, and they deserve every opportunity to access the relief they’ve been promised.”

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was created by the federal government to keep vulnerable tenants housed as a result of the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. California received $5.2 billion in federal funds and HCD was charged with creating an application process, screening tenants for eligibility, and distributing the federal funds.

“This lawsuit is necessary to stop the unfair and arbitrary rental assistance denials,” said Jackie Zaneri, senior attorney at Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). “Tenants deserve to have their rental assistance applications fairly considered and to know why they were denied.”

The application process requires extensive paperwork, access to email and an ability to regularly check it, and the ability to navigate the system in English even if it isn’t the tenant’s preferred language. Tenants with limited English proficiency, disproportionately Latinx and Asian tenants, receive notices and requests for documents only in English. After going through that complicated process, tenants wait months for a response, and are receiving a variety of vague responses including approval for partial payments or a full denial of payment without adequate explanation. When PolicyLink requested public records about denials of rental assistance, HCD did not respond.

Vilma Vasquez, a tenant who worked with SAJE described navigating the process, “it was stressful, in psychological terms because sometimes I worried about not being sure if I would receive the payment or not, housing is vital for the life of any person.”

HCD does allow for a 30-day appeal window, but since tenants are not informed as to why they were denied, appeal is a struggle. There is also no transparency in the process around who reviews appeals, and tenants can’t make their case directly with a decisionmaker. As of June 1 2022, 138,000, or 31 percent of households whose applications have been reviewed, have been denied, putting thousands of people at risk of eviction. After an application is denied, a landlord can seek to evict a tenant under state law.

“Tenants are being denied rental assistance that they need to stay housed without being told the reason, or getting a fair chance to contest the denial,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “The process is profoundly unfair, doesn’t meet constitutional standards, and fails to meet its most basic function – keeping Californians housed.”

Read the complaint HERE.

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Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) is a nonprofit law firm that seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change, and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses, and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors.

Public Counsel is a nonprofit law firm and the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services. It serves communities locally and nationwide by advancing civil rights litigation, advocating for policy change and providing free legal services to thousands of clients annually.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.

CA eviction moratorium and state rent assistance both ending

“Lorraine Lopez, from the Western Center on Law & Poverty, explains the situation. “So folks are now being left, pretty much being in the cold once the application closed,” Lopez said. Her group has filed a lawsuit on behalf of tenant rights advocates, saying the state is violating the law by not providing up to a full 18 months of rental assistance.”

More Here

 

California Lawmakers Extend Eviction Protections for Tenants Awaiting Rent Relief

“Madeline Howard, a senior staff attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty, said that loophole in the law is “bad public policy,” because in many cases, local laws add protections not covered by the statewide law. “We’re blocking these local protections that would have helped people for a time period that is not covered at all or addressed at all by the state law,” she said. “So there’s this fundamental mismatch there.”

Read More

Delays plague California’s rent assistance programs as March 31 deadline looms

“Those eviction protections will only be applicable for folks who were able to get their applications in prior to March 31,” said Lorraine Lopez of the Western Center on Law & Poverty. Lopez is urging the state to also extend the renter assistance program beyond March 31. She says many prospective applicants have been unable to access the program.”

More Here

Tenant Protections are Expiring as Thousands Wait on Rent Assistance

“At the same time, the state’s rent relief program will stop taking applications at the end of March. Applications will still be processed and payments completed beyond that date. But a new report from PolicyLink and the Western Center on Law and Poverty indicates applicants have been waiting months for the state to make decisions on their cases, and that most applicants have not received payment.”

Tenant Protections are Expiring as Thousands Wait on Rent Assistance

Only 16% of California’s COVID Rent Relief Applicants Have Received Their Checks, New Study Finds

“It really is very problematic to have people still waiting for their money when they’re about to be subject to eviction if they can’t pay,” said Madeline Howard, a senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and one of the study’s authors. The state, she said, must speed up the payment process and extend eviction protections.

“It would be so profoundly unfair and wrong for tenants to be evicted because of these bureaucratic delays,” Howard said.”

Read or Listen Here

PRESS RELEASE: New Analysis of California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program Finds Only 16 Percent of Nearly Half a Million Applicants Received Payment, Putting Hundreds of Thousands of Renters at Imminent Risk of Eviction

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact: Gabriel Charles Tyler, Senior Communications Associate, PolicyLink

[email protected], 312.545.0302

An examination of the program’s performance data underscores the urgent need for policy fixes to deliver on the program’s promise and keep renters in their homes

OAKLAND, Calif. — With California’s limited eviction protections set to expire on March 31, hundreds of thousands of renters who’ve been hit the hardest by Covid-19 and its ongoing economic fallout are now at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness. A new analysis of California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) — released today by the National Equity Atlas — reveals that 488,094 renter households have submitted ERAP requests, but only 75,773 of them have received payment. The research also shows that the majority of applications — 59 percent, which represents 289,020 renter households — have yet to be reviewed. The long delay in payment delivery to approved applicants contrasts with the snapshot of program performance provided on the public Housing Is Key data dashboard, which stated that 183,856 renter households had been “served” as of February 23, 2022.

“State legislators have been in a ‘wait and see’ posture with this program, but this analysis shows that it’s time for them to act and shift current policies,” said Francisco Dueñas, Executive Director of Housing NOW! “If the special Covid eviction court procedures are allowed to expire, landlords will evict hundreds of thousands of Covid-impacted renters, undermining the program’s intent to keep families housed and make landlords whole.”

At the beginning of January, 721,000 renter households in California owed their landlords an estimated $3.3 billion in back rent. While the state’s rent relief program has been a lifeline for some struggling renters, hundreds of thousands are still in need. Those who fell into debt because of the pandemic have faced multiple barriers to securing rental assistance, including lack of access for people with disabilities and those whose primary language is not English, a complex application process, and long waits for review and payment.

The brief, produced in partnership with Housing NOW! and Western Center on Law & Poverty, examines the program’s performance from March 15, 2021 (when it launched) through February 23, 2022.

Key findings include:

  • Only 16 percent of renters who have applied to the program have received assistance, either directly or through a payment to their landlord. Nearly half a million renters have submitted rental assistance requests but just 75,773 households have received assistance.
  • The majority of applicants are still waiting for their applications to be reviewed. Fifty-nine percent of applicants (289,020 households) are still awaiting a decision on their applications. Among those whose applications have been initially approved, the typical wait time for a response was three months (a median of 104 days).
  • Most renters whose applications have been approved are still waiting to be paid. As of February 23, 2022, 180,280 renter households have had their applications approved, but 104,507 of them (58 percent) have not yet received assistance. The median wait time between submitting an application and receiving payment is 135 days, indicating that it takes about a month for applicants to be paid even after approval.
  • The speed with which rental assistance is being distributed is improving over time but remains painfully slow. Households that applied for aid in March 2021 typically waited 181 days to receive aid payments, and households that applied in October 2021 typically waited 119 days.
  • Most renters who received assistance have requested additional support. Among renter households who have received rental assistance, 90 percent of them (69,336 households) have reapplied to the program for additional support.
  • Renters whose primary language is not English appear to be underrepresented in the program. About half (51 percent) of California’s severely cost-burdened renter households speak a language other than English at home, yet 88 percent of rental assistance applicants indicated that their primary language was English.
  • Long-term policy solutions, funding, and infrastructure are needed to support California’s economically vulnerable renters. With 8,200 new applications submitted every week and 90 percent of rental assistance recipients requesting additional support, tenants’ ongoing need for financial relief due to pandemic-related economic hardship, and the number of indebted renters not yet reached by the program, the need for rental assistance will continue beyond March 31, 2022 (when the program is set to expire).

“Our analysis underscores how essential eliminating rent debt remains to an equitable and people-centered recovery in California, especially at this moment,” said Sarah Treuhaft, Vice President of Research at PolicyLink. “Identifying the challenges renters have faced in obtaining aid is just the first step. Now advocates and policymakers need to use it to remove those barriers and push for solutions to ensure that every Californian who needs help gets it before protections expire.”

The findings illustrate the urgent need for policy action. For an equitable recovery, California policymakers need to act quickly to extend statewide eviction protections and enact long-term solutions to the affordability crisis while leaving local governments the flexibility to enact and maintain their own protections.

“Every day that rental assistance is delayed, the people the program was intended to serve and protect are facing landlord harassment, eviction, and loss of their homes,” said Madeline Howard, Senior Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Some local governments have taken the steps necessary to protect tenants in their communities while assistance is distributed; state policymakers must act now to extend eviction protections without interfering with these local policies.”

The analysis is based on data tracking all rental assistance applications submitted by renters to the statewide program, which covers about 63 percent of the state’s population. The dataset, which was obtained through a Public Records Act request, includes anonymized individual case data with applicant demographics (race/ethnicity, income, and language of application), zip code, amount of rent and utilities requested and paid, and landlord participation in the application. It also includes 16 detailed case status categories assigned by the California Department of Housing and Community Development including “Application Complete: Pending Payment,” which is assigned to households that have been approved for payment but have not actually received funds and are still waiting for assistance.

Explore the full analysis at nationalequityatlas.org/CARentalAssistance.

Note: Later this month, the Atlas will release a public dashboard with the data for counties, cities, and ZIP codes. In the interim, data by ZIP code can be provided to media upon request.

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About the National Equity Atlas

The National Equity Atlas, produced by PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute, is America’s most detailed report card on racial and economic equity. The Atlas equips movement leaders and policymakers with actionable data and strategies to advance racial equity and shared prosperity. For more information, visit nationalequityatlas.org.

About Housing NOW!

Housing NOW! is a broad, diverse movement building power to make housing affordable and to combat the displacement crisis that is disproportionately impacting working class communities of color. Led by tenants, the coalition includes allied landlords, realtors, and dozens of community, faith and labor organizations. For more information, visit housingnowca.org.

About Western Center on Law & Poverty

For more than 50 years, Western Center on Law & Poverty has led the fight to end poverty and secure housing, health care, a strong safety net, and racial and economic justice for all Californians with low incomes. Western Center brings about system-wide change through impact litigation, legislative, policy and administrative advocacy at the state and federal level, and support for legal services and community-based organizations. For more information, visit wclp.org.