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Housing Search With a Voucher Is Difficult in Los Angeles County. A Homeless Student Received Aid for an Apartment. Then Came the Hard Part.

LOS ANGELES — Many of the apartment listings were outdated or offered scant details. Sometimes the rent was a few hundred dollars higher than advertised.

If she managed to get someone on the phone, Jacqueline Benitez would inquire about square footage, about parking, about whether the landlord might accept a rescue tabby named Kiwi.

But when she brought up her housing voucher, the tone would usually shift.

“They would say, ‘No, we do not accept Section 8, sorry.’ Or, ‘We tried Section 8 in the past, and it didn’t work for us,’” Ms. Benitez said, referring to the commonly used term for the vouchers. At 21 years old, she had found herself stuck in a loop of hope and rejection.

Landing an apartment in Los Angeles County can be an arduous journey in a region struggling with a housing shortage and homelessness crisis, where even those with steady middle-class salaries have found themselves in a rat race for a home.

For the impoverished, the search can feel ultimately impossible.

“Are you going to interrupt your search to fight every landlord who says, ‘I’m not going to rent to you because you have Section 8?’” said Nisha Vyas, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s more likely you’re going to keep trying to find someone who’s going to say yes.”

Letter to Assemblymember Josh Hoover in Opposition to AB 257

Assemblymember Josh Hoover
Capitol Annex
1021 O St Suite 4540
Sacramento, CA 95814
February 3, 2023
Re: AB 257 (HOOVER) – OPPOSE

As organizations and individuals who work to end homelessness and protect the human and civil rights of all Californians, the undersigned join together to oppose AB 257 (Hoover), which seeks to further criminalize the very existence of our unhoused neighbors in public space. AB 257 would make it a crime to sit, lie, sleep, or store, use, maintain, or place personal property upon any street, sidewalk, or other public right-of-way within 500 feet of a school, daycare center, park, or library. The bill would also make it a crime to resist, delay, or obstruct a police officer or public employee attempting to enforce this measure. We are gravely concerned that AB 257 would further demonize, destabilize, criminalize, and violate the human rights of unhoused Californians while failing to address the underlying driver of homelessness: the lack of affordable and accessible housing to Californians with the lowest incomes. However, we would welcome a chance to work with you and other members of the legislature to advance solutions that address the urgent housing, economic, and health needs of Californians experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

Given the ubiquity of schools, parks, libraries, and daycare centers, this policy would effectively make it a crime for any unhoused Californian to exist in public space, and put police officers at the frontlines of responding to our state’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis. By framing the bill as means to enhance public safety, this measure perpetuates false narratives that unhoused people are inherently dangerous. It also ignores that our unhoused neighbors include families and children who attend schools and visit parks and libraries. Further, given the fact that Black people and other people of color disproportionately live without housing or  shelter and are unjustly targeted by law enforcement, AB 257 also reinforces dangerous  racialized stereotypes that continue to reproduce systemic inequity in housing, health, employment, and legal outcomes.

Only housing ends homelessness, and at present, California is experiencing a housing affordability crisis decades in the making, with a statewide shortage of 1.2 million affordable homes. Without housing options, criminalizing basic activities of living cannot solve homelessness and may make it worse. As shown by recent research and reporting from across the state, sweeping encampments and criminalizing unhoused people with nowhere else to go is traumatic, destabilizing, and ineffective. People displaced by sweeps regularly lose access to important belongings, including identity documents, medication and healthcare resources, and irreplaceable belongings such as photographs or family heirlooms or have them seized and destroyed. Criminal penalties for sleeping create legal and financial barriers that may make it harder to access housing or services in the future. Sweeps can disrupt service provision and exacerbate well-founded mistrust of government workers and institutions. Under AB 257’s proposed enforcement zones, people would almost certainly be pushed to areas far away from critical services and resources. Finally, a police-based response to homelessness is extremely costly to local governments, diverting critical resources away from long-term solutions like affordable and supportive housing, mental health services, infrastructure, and other critical life-affirming resources.

Criminalizing unhoused people because they are homeless violates their constitutional and civil rights. Courts have found that, where people experiencing homelessness have no alternative housing or shelter, the state is prohibited from criminalizing acts such as sitting, lying, sleeping, or other life-sustaining activities. People cannot be restricted from public spaces by reason of their housing status, especially given that decades of underinvestment mean that services, shelters, and housing options do not exist in this state for everyone who needs them. The effect of such a blatantly discriminatory law will lead to further stigmatization and discrimination of people experiencing houselessness. This discrimination also compounds considering that people experiencing homelessness are also disproportionately comprised of other marginalized groups, including people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ people.

AB 257 perpetuates a harmful trend of scapegoating our unhoused neighbors and wasting public resources on inequitable and ineffective enforcement-driven homelessness policy. If the legislation’s goal is, as its author states, to increase safety surrounding encampments, there are many ways to do so that do not require police or criminal penalties: ongoing sanitation services, regular trash pickup, housing navigation resources, and on-site support services at encampment sites while people wait to be connected to interim and permanent housing and services.

While we vehemently oppose AB 257, we reiterate our interest in working with the Legislature to secure additional state resources to deliver on our neighbors’ basic health and housing needs, including through budget investments in supportive and affordable housing, service provider outreach, community-based mental health and substance use treatment services to support our unhoused neighbors in connecting to the housing and care the want and need.

To discuss these concerns further, please reach out to Cynthia Castillo, [email protected].

Signed,
The following organizations:
ACLU California Action
Housing California
Western Center on Law and Poverty
Active San Gabriel Valley
All Home
Ascencia
AVALANCHE
Bet Tzedek Legal Services
Black Women for Wellness
Break the Cycle Project
Brilliant Corners
Build Affordable Faster
California Coalition for Women Prisoners
California Housing Partnership
Californians for Safety and Justice
Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice
Centro Legal de la Raza
Climate Resolve
Coalition on Homelessness San Francisco
Community Works
Corporation for Supportive Housing
CURYJ
Disability Community Resource Center (DCRC)
Disability Rights California
Downtown Women’s Center
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice
Elder Law & Disability Center
Ella Baker Center
Ensuring Opportunity Campaign to End Poverty in Contra Costa
First to Serve, Inc.
Friends Committee on Legislation of California
GRACE/End Child Poverty CA
Haven Hills, Inc.
Homebase
Homeless Health Care Los Angeles
Housing Equity & Advocacy Resource Team (HEART LA)
Housing is a Human Right OC
HPP Cares (Home Preservation and Prevention Inc.)
Indivisible CA: StateStrong
Indivisible CA45
Indivisible Sacramento
Indivisible San Francisco
Indivisible Sonoma County
Initiate Justice
Inner City Law Center
LA Family Housing
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of The San Francisco Bay Area
Law Foundation of Silicon Valley
Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability
Legal Aid of Marin
My Friend’s Place
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Homelessness Law Center
National Housing Law Project
NoHo Home Alliance
Norwalk Unides
No CARE Court Coalition
PICO California
Project Amiga
Public Advocates
Residents United Network Los Angeles
Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee
Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness
Safe Place for Youth
San Bernardino Free Them All
Silicon Valley De-Bug
SLO Legal Assistance Foundation
South County Homelessness Task Force
Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE)
Streets for All
The Center in Hollywood
The Midnight Mission
The People Concern
The People’s Resource Center
The Public Interest Law Project
The RowLA – The Church Without Walls – Skid Row
The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office
Transitions Clinic Network
TRUST South LA
Union Station Homeless Services
United Way of Greater Los Angeles
University of Southern California
Venice Community Housing
Voices for Progress
Western Regional Advocacy Project
YIMBY Action
The following individual community members:
Paula Lomazzi
Casey Thompson
Shelly Williams
Sarah Whipple
Ben Baczkowski
Kevin Green
Christina Gonzalez
Zerita Jones
Haley Feng
Joyce E Roberts
Damian J. Hernandez
Irma Ramos
Kyle Robert Kitson
Sydney Smanpongse
Elizabeth Flores
Olivia Barber
Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez
Ariège Besson
Rachael L Parker-Chavez
Nelowfar ahmadi
In YANG
Gloria Magallanes
Isaac Bushnell
Andrea Martinez
Kiara Tarazon-Molina
Melissa Ceja
NOMPUMELELO FAITH NYANDU
Jacqueline Olivares
Katayun Salehi
Abbi Samuels
Roya Pakzad
Amy Ithurburn
Rebekah Turnbaugh

Why We Sued to End CARE Court

An unprecedented number of Californians live on the streets and face severe mental illness. It is gut wrenching to see. The CARE Act accurately describes this humanitarian crisis but prescribes a wrong, inhumane solution. Not only is creating this new court system to round up individuals unconstitutional, it is bad policy subject to pervasive societal biases and disproven methods of treating mental illness. That is why on January 26, Disability Rights California, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and the Public Interest Law Project sued Governor Newsom to put an end to CARE Court.

Contrary to some strong opinions that CARE Court is “California’s only real plan for helping our most vulnerable and seriously mentally ill,” Governor Newsom never planned to truly provide behavioral health treatment and housing through this bill. The CARE Act does not mandate counties to provide behavioral health treatment or housing; it creates no new rights or benefits for people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders who are summoned to court to join the CARE process. Rather, all CARE Court-ordered services are “subject to available funding and all applicable federal and state statute and regulations, contractual provisions, and policy guidance governing initial and ongoing program eligibility” (Welf. & Inst. Code § 5982(d)). In other words, services will only be provided as they are available.

Here’s a reality check for Sacramento: behavioral health and housing services are not available to all Californians. A person who needs treatment and housing usually cannot receive either in a timely manner because there are not enough mental health providers, facilities, and affordable housing units to access.

A UCSF study projected that if nothing significant changes by 2028, California will have 50% fewer psychiatrists to meet demand for behavioral health services, and 28% fewer psychologists, therapists, and social workers combined to meet the demand. We see this play out daily with stark disparities based on income and race. For example, in Compton, there are only five licensed psychologists compared to Santa Monica, which has 361.

Compounding CARE Court’s false promises is the affordable housing shortage. There is a shortage of 1 million affordable rental homes for extremely low income renters. And the CARE Act does not appropriate one single penny for housing.

The CARE Act pretends this backlog of services and housing does not exist, despite advocates’ cries to increase funding for our behavioral health systems and affordable housing instead of funding new courts. If we invested in behavioral health and housing to their full level of need, and give some time for the workforce to catch up, we would already have a better plan than CARE Court.

So, if not guaranteeing behavioral health or housing services, what does the CARE Act provide? The law paves the way to eventually institutionalize people who are unhoused and have schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, out of sight from the very people who support CARE Court.

The biggest lie about CARE Court is that it is not involuntary treatment. CARE Court is an involuntary, coercive system. There are consequences for not following through with a CARE plan. When a person does not comply with the exact terms of a CARE plan, the court must refer the person for conservatorship with “a presumption . . . the [person] needs additional intervention beyond the supports and services provided by the CARE plan” (Welf. & Inst. Code § 5979(a)(3)). A person who, for any reason, does not follow through their court order, would more easily be conserved and lose their rights to control their own medical care, finances, and housing preferences. No matter how Governor Newsom and his proponents want to spin CARE Court, the law speaks for itself.

Existing laws already provide for involuntary treatment of persons found dangerous to themselves or others. But the CARE Act takes this a giant step further by permitting a judge to impose restrictions on persons deemed “likely” to become dangerous. Little guidance is offered for judges to make that speculative determination.

The CARE Act was enacted despite any evidence that it would be effective. As Disability Rights California wrote in May 2022 on behalf of our coalition opposing the CARE Act, voluntary treatment works and involuntary treatment does not:

[N]o studies exist to prove that a court order for outpatient treatment in and of itself has any independent effect on client outcomes. Studies show that any positive effects that result from outpatient commitment are due to the provision of intensive services, and whether court orders have any effect at all in the absence of intensive treatment is an unanswered question.

In determining how we provide medical care and housing for Californians, our civil rights and social policies can co-exist. The state should house people first, then let people decide their course of treatment. The Legislature has not explained why it cannot appropriate resources to fund all medically necessary care and permanent affordable housing for individuals and also protect their dignity and privacy interests at the same time. What is clear is that faced at a moral crossroads, Governor Newsom and the Legislature chose a more politically expedient route instead of a benevolent and effective one.

2023-24 Housing and Homelessness Budget Blueprint for Impact

Sent February 6th, 2023

The Honorable Gavin Newsom Governor of California

Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

Assembly Budget Chair Philip Ting

Senate Budget Chair Nancy Skinner

 

Re: 2023-24 Housing and Homelessness Budget Blueprint for Impact

Dear Governor Newsom, Senate President pro Tempore Atkins, Assembly Speaker Rendon, Assembly Budget Chair Ting, and Senate Budget Chair Skinner:

As you know, California’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis is one of the most pressing challenges facing our state and its residents. You have demonstrated your commitment to addressing this crisis through several years of historic investments and enacting meaningful policy change. We write to you as a united coalition of California’s leading affordable housing, homelessness, and housing justice organizations to propose a set of investments that should serve as a blueprint for housing investment in the 2023-24 budget.

We share your commitment to ensuring everyone in every community has access to a safe, stable, affordable home. However, to continue to build on our progress we must go beyond the investment signaled in the Governor’s January budget proposal and invest at a greater scale in deeply affordable housing development, preservation, homelessness, tenant protection, and affordable homeownership.

We recognize the complex, difficult choices the Administration and the Legislature face in the months ahead in confronting a major projected budget deficit, and appreciate the Administration’s commitment to maintaining many of the planned housing and homelessness investments committed in last year’s budget. We also know from previous deficits and recessions that economic downturns are precisely the times when we must invest in resources for our most marginalized neighbors to prevent our housing and homelessness crisis, and its disproportionate impact on people of color, from worsening. Now is the time to build on our momentum in securing a more stable and affordable California.

We are collectively calling for investing $7.9 billion in a critical continuum of housing production, preservation, and homelessness programs to advance housing affordability and economic resilience in California. Our coalition stands by this full suite of investments as a holistic package that can ensure that our state continues to build and preserve deeply affordable housing to address our shortfall of over a million affordable units for people with extremely low incomes, prevent people from falling into homelessness and solve homelessness for thousands of our neighbors living on our sidewalks and in shelters, and address the disproportionate harms of skyrocketing housing costs, housing instability, and homelessness on Black, Indigenous, and other people of color living in poverty.

$7.9 Billion Investment Strategy to Build on Progress on California’s Affordable Housing Goals

● $4 billion to unlock and accelerate production of 35,275 new affordable homes. We propose doubling the current state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC) with an additional $500 million beyond what was allocated in the 2022-2023 state budget. We also urge appropriating $2 billion to the Multifamily Housing Program (MHP) and $1.5 billion to the California Housing Accelerator Program (CHAP) and that HCD be given the authority, with DOF approval, to transfer amounts between these two programs in line with demand. Using a portion of MHP funds for capitalized operating subsidies or in conjunction with augmented HHAP allocations for operating subsidies would allow a significant portion of these funds to provide housing for extremely and acutely low-income households, where the greatest need currently exists.

● $2 billion in additional funding for the Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention Program (HHAP) in 2023-2024 for a total of $3 billion in ongoing funding for future years, allowing 94,000 households to exit homelessness. This funding will provide local jurisdictions and Continuums of Care (CoCs) with adequate resources to rehouse about 20,000 households experiencing homelessness in year one, increasing to rehousing or preventing homelessness for 94,000 households annually by year five, by focusing investment on solutions like rental subsidies, services to help sustain housing, and homeless prevention programs that keep the most marginalized populations from falling into homelessness. Much of this funding can pay for operating costs of deeply affordable housing also created through this proposal, making state capital funding more effective. The Bring California Home Coalition is proposing pairing this funding with programmatic changes to enhance accountability, drive successful long-term outcomes, eliminate racial disparities, and advance workforce capacity and equity across local homeless response systems

● $1 billion to prevent displacement and homelessness for low-income households and preserve new affordable homes, to include:

○ $500 million for the Community Anti-Displacement and Preservation Program (CAPP) as proposed in Senate Bill 225 (Caballero) to spur the preservation of 3,600 homes, preserving low-income housing for 39,600 households over the next 55 years. This program will prevent displacement and homelessness by financing the acquisition of naturally occurring affordable rental housing and preserving it as permanently affordable. Acquisition preservation directly prevents low-income families from being displaced and potentially falling into homelessness today while also investing in expanding the supply of deed-restricted affordable homes for generations to come. CAPP fills a state funding gap where there are not currently resources to support this type and scale of acquisition preservation.

○ $500 million for a targeted rental subsidy program to prevent and end homelessness and displacement for over 13,500 older adults and people with disabilities each year, over four years. As proposed in Senate Bill 37 (Caballero), this funding will create a grant program to prevent the inflow of older adults and people with disabilities, the fastest-growing populations falling into homelessness, and help these populations exit homelessness.

● $500 million for affordable homeownership production through the CalHome Program to provide homeownership opportunities to 5,000 low-income Californians. CalHome is the only state homeownership program with funding dedicated to the construction of new owner-occupied homes for low-income families. CalHome supports programs prioritizing homeownership in various forms for low-income families so they can build equity, increase community stability, and gain the multi-generational benefits of owning a home.

● $200 million to support the affordable housing needs of farmworker and tribal communities. This allocation should include $100 million for farmworker housing development through the Joe Serna Farmworker Housing Grant Program. Farmworkers face significant housing disparities and require resources to ensure safe, quality housing that supports migrant families and make a life-changing difference in their children’s health and educational outcomes. These investments should also include $100 million for a new Tribal Housing Grant Program to help finance homes for rent or purchase on tribal trust and fee land and meet the unique housing, land, and sovereignty conditions of California tribes that are not being met by existing state housing programs.

● $200 million a year for 2 years for resources to help tenants utilize federal Housing Choice Vouchers through landlord recruitment, services, and resources to connect landlords and tenants. These programs have succeeded around the country in increasing voucher utilization and access for voucher holders.

● In addition, we support the augmentation of funding for the Civil Rights Department (CRD) included in the Governor’s January budget proposal to support investigation and enforcement of complaints related to SB 329 (Mitchell, Chapter 600, Statutes of 2019), which prohibited landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants with housing vouchers and other forms of public rental assistance. CRD receives upwards of 800 voucher discrimination complaints every year but does not have sufficient staff to process them all. Expanding enforcement of the state’s voucher non-discrimination law will increase the utilization and effectiveness of both federal- and state-funded rental subsidies.

We realize that these budget requests exceed what is outlined in Governor Newsom’s January budget proposal, but are eager to work with the Administration and the Legislature to seek collaborative and creative approaches, including through exploring new, dedicated revenue sources, to provide long-term funding solutions to our housing crisis. Together, we can ensure that deeply affordable housing units do not continue to languish in the pipeline, unhoused Californians need not wait months or years to access an affordable and accessible housing option, and we stem the inflow of Californians into homelessness through protecting their rights and preserving their affordable housing options. As such, our coalition stands fully committed to advocating for this full spectrum of housing and homelessness programs as a package. We recommend that any housing and homelessness investments beyond those proposed in the Governor’s January budget reflect the proportionality of the requests in this letter.

Thank you for your ongoing leadership and partnership in creating a more affordable and equitable California. We look forward to working together closely on the budget this year.

 

JOINT PRESS RELEASE: Lawsuit Challenges San Bernardino County Approval of Polluting Warehouse Near Schools, Homes

 

Contact:

Hallie Kutak, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7117, [email protected]
Nisha Vyas, Western Center on Law and Poverty, (213) 235-2621, [email protected]
Mary Ann Ruiz, Sierra Club, [email protected]
Miranda Fox, Earthjustice, (415) 283-2324, [email protected]

Lawsuit Challenges San Bernardino County Approval of Polluting Warehouse Near Schools, Homes

BLOOMINGTON, Calif.— Environmental justice and conservation groups sued San Bernardino County today for approving a Bloomington warehouse complex without adequately addressing the harms it will cause to air quality, public health and housing.

Today’s lawsuit asserts that the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved a 213-acre business park to accommodate a massive warehouse and distribution center. The Bloomington Business Park would add more than 8,555 vehicle trips per day — including diesel truck traffic — to an area already referred to as a “diesel death zone” because of the influx of massive warehouses nearby.

In November the board of supervisors greenlit the project on a site the size of 173 football fields near low-income communities, communities of color and three schools. According to state data, the project area already has an overall pollution burden that is heavier than 94% of the state.

“The county’s approval of this project is not only unlawful — it is disproportionately harmful to a community that is already overburdened,” said Candice Youngblood of Earthjustice. “In the last several years, especially as e-commerce has boomed, we’ve seen the freight logistics industry sprawl across the Inland Empire. At this point, these warehouses are in folks’ backyard. The residence closest to this project site is only 11 feet away.”

“Residents in and around Bloomington already breathe some of the nation’s dirtiest air, but San Bernardino County wants to pile on still more pollution,” said Hallie Kutak, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of keeping young children and frontline communities safe, county leaders are allowing industrial developers to turn this neighborhood into a toxic zone. This trend of prioritizing warehouses over residents has got to stop.”

The county’s environmental review failed to consider and mitigate the air quality, greenhouse gas, traffic, noise and other environmental concerns caused by the increased truck traffic this project would bring to the area. These concerns were expressed by many individuals and organizations, including the California Air Resources Board.

“The county has once again ignored the health and safety of residents by approving this project that will add to the cumulative air quality impacts of diesel trucking in this corridor,” said Mary Ann Ruiz, chair of the San Gorgonio Chapter at the Sierra Club. “Concerns from community members and our environmental justice partners were ignored, and our county supervisors must be held accountable.”

“The environmental and health concerns of Bloomington residents have been neglected by the San Bernardino County planning staff and board of supervisors time and time again,” said Alejandra Gonzalez, member of the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice. “Building warehouses in the middle of our neighborhood strips us of our right to breathe clean air and these buildings encroach upon our homes, schools and ultimately our freedom. The approval of the Bloomington Business Park is a deliberate act of disrespect to the children, seniors and families who will continue to call Bloomington their home long after the land that currently houses horses, chickens and gardens becomes home to pallets, forklifts and machinery.”

Despite the county’s dire need for safe and affordable housing, it rezoned existing residential land to accommodate this industrial development, requiring at least 100 homes to be demolished and their occupants to be displaced. Other households near the project will face environmental and other harmful constraints.

Today’s lawsuit also argues that the county’s approval of the project violates fair housing laws intended to protect vulnerable communities from discrimination and requiring the county to, among other things, lift barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on national origin and other protected characteristics.

“We hoped that the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors had the consciousness and convictions to never allow this to happen in an already overburdened community that is majority Latino low-income families, but they voted for it with no deliberation or consideration to public concerns of displacement and perpetuation of environmental racism,” said Ana Gonzalez, executive director of Center for Community Action Environmental Justice.

“There is no evidence that the county analyzed the project’s impacts on the primarily Latinx households that will be directly displaced by the project or in close proximity to the project,” said Nisha Vyas, an attorney with Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Nor did the county consider that this community will disproportionately bear the ongoing environmental, health, and housing harms caused by the Bloomington Business Park.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court on behalf of the PCEJ, CCAEJ, Sierra Club and the Center. The Community Action and Environmental Justice is represented by Earthjustice; PCEJ is represented by Earthjustice and The Western Center on Law and Poverty; and the Sierra Club is represented by the Law Office of Abigail Smith.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

JOINT PRESS RELEASE: California Says Emergency Rental Assistance Program Will Likely Run Out of Funds with Over 140,000 Applicants Still in Limbo

For Immediate Release: January 23, 2023​

Press Contact:

Joshua Busch, 310-991-2503, ​[email protected]
Estevan Montemayor, [email protected]

 

California Says Emergency Rental Assistance Program Will Likely Run Out of Funds with Over 140,000 Applicants Still in Limbo

State lawyer says the program’s remaining $177 million could go to private contractor if the state is forced to comply with a Superior Court order, leaving no money for tenants.​

Oakland, California – January 23, 2023 – More than 140,000 Californian households who have been waiting for over ten months for a response to their rental assistance applications may be denied their opportunity to receive rent relief because the program will run out of money, according to the state’s lawyer. In a court hearing last Thursday afternoon, a lawyer for the State of California told a judge that the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program would need to spend its remaining $177 million on administrative costs if forced to comply with the court’s order to provide basic constitutional due process, leaving no money for tenants. The state claims it will pay its private contractor most – if not all – of its remaining funds just to fix its flawed application process and provide basic information to tenants it believes are ineligible for assistance.

At stake at Thursday’s hearing was how the state would issue denial notices to around 104,000 renters who submitted applications over ten months ago, and another 40,000 who have pending appeals. The state was sued by community groups Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE Action), Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) and PolicyLink last June for issuing flawed notices that provided little or no explanation for why an applicant was denied, making it difficult for wrongfully denied tenants to appeal. Last July, a Superior Court judge agreed the state was violating applicants’ due process rights and issued an injunction blocking the state from denying tenants until the problems were addressed. But in the past six months, most tenants have received no information about why their applications have been delayed. Now, after waiting nearly a year, many may receive no assistance, even if the state determines they are eligible. This goes back on a guarantee the state made last year when announced it was abruptly closing the rental assistance program but promised that “every eligible applicant seeking assistance for eligible costs submitted and incurred on or before March 31, 2022, would be assisted.”

On Thursday, Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch said the state’s denial notices must “specify the facts supporting the denial” to satisfy due process, meaning the notice must provide enough information for applicants to understand why the state does not believe their application meets program requirements. The Court acknowledged that being told why tenants are being denied is important to allow applicants a meaningful opportunity to appeal and correct their paperwork. The state’s lawyer argued such a requirement would be too burdensome, and the state would have to pay its remaining rent relief funds to the private contractor it hired to administer the program. Judge Roesch rejected the state’s argument and its implications that “a constitutional principle can be ignored because of budgetary reasons.”

“We’re relieved that tenants who applied for desperately needed rent relief will finally get a notice that tells them the reason they are being denied assistance, and a fair chance to appeal – that’s been our goal since this suit was filed,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney with Western Center on Law & Poverty. “But it’s extremely frustrating that the state has been fighting so hard to avoid giving tenants this basic information that should have been provided from the start. We are alarmed by the state’s threat to use the program’s remaining funds to pay an out-of-state contractor $177 million just to tell tenants the reason they are being denied. This threat raises very serious concerns about how the Department of Housing and Community Development has managed this funding.”

“Low-income people were decimated by this pandemic—financially, physically, and emotionally—and it is the responsibility of government to provide support for residents in times of crisis such as these,” said Cynthia Strathmann, executive director of SAJE. “Instead, the state is threatening to use all of its funds to deny people the financial support they so desperately need, after spending hundreds of millions on a private contractor. This terrible irony should not be accepted.”

In court documents, California’s Department of Housing and Community Development revealed that it hired a private, for-profit company to administer the state’s rent relief program. Based in Mississippi, Horne LLP has developed a business running and profiting off of safety-net programs created in the wake of calamitous events like hurricanes, floods, and, more recently, pandemics. California has already agreed to pay Horne over $260 million to administer its program. Recent invoices show California has been charged an average of $7.72 million per month, even with the program closed to new applications and apparently at a standstill.

“The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was created to keep struggling Californians housed during an unprecedented pandemic that put millions on the brink of homelessness,” said Faizah Malik, a supervising senior attorney with Public Counsel. “However, the execution of the program has been terribly flawed. While Judge Roesch’s order helps to correct one major problem, it is fundamentally unfair for the state to now deny tenants crucial assistance because of its poor management of the program. If it is true that the state must use the remaining funds to just satisfy its constitutional obligations, it must allocate additional funds to provide the rental relief that tens of thousands of California families were promised.”

“I’m grateful the judge is on our side on this issue, but many eviction protections are expiring imminently, and HCD needs to hurry up to prevent more families from being forced to live under bridges,” said Patricia Mendoza, statewide organizer for ACCE. “The state asked us to stay home during the pandemic, and they promised that if we did so, we would be taken care of. If they want to follow through on that promise, they need to do what it takes to increase their funding to ensure tenants get the rent relief they are due now.”

“Nothing was stopping the state from reaching out to the renters who have been in limbo over the past six months to help them fix potential mistakes on their applications or ask for missing information,” said Jonathan Jager, an attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “Yet, that wasn’t done, and our neighbors and communities will pay the price.”

####

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.

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 the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services, utilizing an innovative legal model to promote justice, hope, and opportunity in lower-income and communities of color in Los Angeles and across the nation. Through groundbreaking civil rights litigation, community building, advocacy, and policy change, as well as wide-ranging direct legal services that annually help thousands of people experiencing poverty, Public Counsel has fought to secure equal access to justice for more than 50 years.

 

 

JOINT STATEMENT OF OPPOSITION TO SB 31 (JONES)

Thursday, January 5, 2023

As organizations and individuals who work to end homelessness and protect the human and civil rights of all Californians, the undersigned join together to oppose SB 31 (Jones), which seeks to further criminalize the very existence of our unhoused neighbors in public space. SB 31 would make it a crime to sit, lie, sleep, or store, use, maintain, or place personal property upon any street, sidewalk, or other public right-of-way within 1000 feet of a so-called “sensitive area”, including schools, daycare centers, parks, or libraries. We are gravely concerned that SB 31 would further demonize, destabilize, criminalize, and violate the human rights of unhoused Californians while failing to address the underlying driver of homelessness: the lack of affordable and accessible housing to Californians with the lowest incomes. However, we would welcome a chance to work with the bill’s co-authors and other members of the legislature to advance solutions that address the urgent housing, economic, and health needs of Californians experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. 

 

Given the ubiquity of schools, parks, libraries, and daycare centers, this policy would effectively make it a crime for any unhoused Californian to exist in public space, and put police officers at the frontlines of responding to our state’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis. By framing the bill as means to protect children and families, this measure perpetuates false narratives that unhoused people are inherently dangerous. It also ignores that our unhoused neighbors include families and children who attend schools and visit parks and libraries. Further, given the fact that Black people and other people of color disproportionately live without housing or shelter and are unjustly targeted by law enforcement, SB 31 also reinforces dangerous racialized stereotypes that continue to reproduce systemic inequity in housing, health, employment, and legal outcomes.    

 

Only housing ends homelessness, and at present, California is experiencing a housing affordability crisis decades in the making, with a statewide shortage of 1.2 million affordable homes. Without housing options, criminalizing basic activities of living cannot solve homelessness and may make it worse. As shown by recent research and reporting from across the state, sweeping encampments and criminalizing unhoused people with nowhere else to go is traumatic, destabilizing, and ineffective. People displaced by sweeps regularly lose access to important belongings, including identity documents, medication and healthcare resources, and irreplaceable belongings such as photographs or family heirlooms or have them seized and destroyed. Penalties for sleeping create legal and financial barriers that may make it harder to access housing or services in the future. Sweeps can disrupt service provision and exacerbate well-founded mistrust of government workers and institutions. Under SB 31’s proposed enforcement zones, people would almost certainly be pushed to areas far away from critical services and resources. Finally, a police-based response to homelessness is extremely costly to local governments, diverting critical resources away from long-term solutions like affordable and supportive housing, mental health services, infrastructure, and other critical life-affirming resources. 

Criminalizing unhoused people because they are homeless violates their constitutional and civil rights. Courts have found that, where people experiencing homelessness have no alternative housing or shelter, the state is prohibited from criminalizing acts such as sitting, lying, sleeping, or other life-sustaining activities. People cannot be restricted from public spaces by reason of their housing status, especially given that decades of underinvestment mean that services, shelters, and housing options do not exist in this state for everyone who needs them. The effect of such a blatantly discriminatory law will lead to further stigmatization and discrimination of people experiencing houselessness.  

SB 31 perpetuates a harmful trend of scapegoating our unhoused neighbors and wasting public resources on inequitable and ineffective enforcement-driven homelessness policy. If the legislation’s goal is, as its authors claim, to increase safety for families and children as well as people living in encampments, there are many ways to do so that do not require police or criminal penalties: ongoing sanitation services, regular trash pickup, housing navigation resources, and on-site support services at encampment sites while people wait to be connected to interim and permanent housing and services. 

While we vehemently oppose SB 31, we reiterate our interest in working with the Legislature to secure additional state resources to deliver on our neighbors’ basic health and housing needs, including through budget investments in supportive and affordable housing, service provider outreach, community-based mental health and substance use treatment services to support our unhoused neighbors in connecting to the housing and care they want and need. 

 

Signed, 

 

The following organizations: 

ACLU California Action 

Housing California 

Western Center on Law and Poverty 

Abundant Housing LA 

Active San Gabriel Valley

All Home

Ascencia 

AVALANCHE

Bet Tzedek Legal Services

Black Women for Wellness

Brilliant Corners 

Build Affordable Faster 

California Coalition for Women Prisoners 

California Housing Partnership

Californians for Safety and Justice 

Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Centro Legal de la Raza 

Climate Resolve 

Coalition on Homelessness San Francisco 

Community Works

Corporation for Supportive Housing 

CURYJ

Disability Community Resource Center (DCRC) 

Disability Rights California 

Downtown Women’s Center 

East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice 

Elder Law & Disability Center 

Ella Baker Center 

Ensuring Opportunity Campaign to End Poverty in Contra Costa

First to Serve, Inc. 

Friends Committee on Legislation of California

GRACE/End Child Poverty CA 

Haven Hills, Inc. 

Homebase

Homeless Health Care Los Angeles 

Housing Equity & Advocacy Resource Team (HEART LA)

HPP Cares (Home Preservation and Prevention Inc.)

Indivisible CA: StateStrong

Indivisible CA45

Indivisible Sacramento

Indivisible San Francisco

Indivisible Sonoma County

Initiate Justice

Inner City Law Center 

LA Family Housing 

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of The San Francisco Bay Area

Law Foundation of Silicon Valley 

Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability

My Friend’s Place

National Alliance to End Homelessness

National Homelessness Law Center

National Housing Law Project

NoHo Home Alliance

Norwalk Unides

PICO California

Public Advocates

Residents United Network Los Angeles

Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee

Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness

Safe Place for Youth

San Bernardino Free Them All 

Silicon Valley De-Bug

SLO Legal Assistance Foundation

South County Homelessness Task Force 

Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE)

Streets for All

The Center in Hollywood

The Midnight Mission

The People Concern

The People’s Resource Center 

The RowLA – The Church Without Walls – Skid Row 

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

Transitions Clinic Network

TRUST South LA

Union Station Homeless Services

United Way of Greater Los Angeles

University of Southern California

Venice Community Housing

Voices for Progress

Western Regional Advocacy Project

YIMBY Action

 

The following individual community members: 

Paula Lomazzi

Casey Thompson

Shelly Williams

Sarah Whipple

Ben Baczkowski

Kevin Green

Christina Gonzalez

Zerita Jones

Haley Feng

Joyce E Roberts

Damian J. Hernandez

Irma Ramos

Kyle Robert Kitson

Sydney Smanpongse

Elizabeth Flores

Olivia Barber

Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez

Ariège Besson

Rachael L Parker-Chavez

Nelowfar ahmadi

In YANG

Gloria Magallanes

Isaac Bushnell

Andrea Martinez

To discuss these concerns further, please reach out to Mari Castaldi, [email protected].

Western Center Roundup – July 2022

A Summer of Advocacy: Protecting Tenants & Securing Budget Wins


Judge orders CA HCD to stop denying Emergency Rental Assistance until further review

Last month, we told you about our second lawsuit against California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) on behalf of tenant groups over the lack of transparency and due process for applicants to the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). This month brought good news for California tenants in need of assistance in the form of a court injunction ordering HCD to stop denials for rental assistance applications until the court can determine if HCD’s process meets constitutional due process standards.

In the meantime, HCD can continue to approve applications to get assistance to those who need it, but they cannot deny pending applications. Tenants with pending ERAP applications or applications the court decision might make eligible for appeal should continue to contact HCD and fight eviction attempts. We will keep you posted as the process continues, but for now, we are celebrating with a sigh of relief.


Protecting Californians from housing price-gouging after disaster 

The Sacramento team is gearing up for the end of the legislative session in August, which includes pushing for the passage of this year’s Western Center sponsored bills as well as making sure harmful bills don’t pass. Western Center housing policy advocate Tina Rosales has her eye on a problematic bill, SB 1133, that would undo decades of price-gouging protections during disasters and green light landlords who would capitalize on emergencies by hiking rents.

Tina wrote a blog post outlining the spate of problems with the bill and calls on readers to help stop price gouging after disaster by contacting state legislators to urge their NO vote on SB 1133.


California Assembly Holds Inaugural Select Committee on Poverty & Economic Inclusion Hearing  

Western Center and community groups were honored to join conveners Assemblymember Isaac Bryan and EPIC (Ending Poverty in California) for a powerful event centered on shaping California’s roadmap to ending poverty. Western Center’s Director of Policy, Mike Herald provided committee testimony addressing the high costs of being poor, tackling the State’s burdensome CalWORKs requirements and unjust interception of child support that should be benefitting low-income families on CalWORKs. You can read more from EPIC’s Executive Director, Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs on the organizing and policy work to secure this year’s historic antipoverty investments in the State budget and watch a video of the hearing and rally.


Save the Date: 8/15 at 12PM Meet the Advocates Webinar 

Join us for a free webinar focused on Senate Bill 972 and the advocacy efforts to support California’s street food vendors by removing barriers to accessing food vending permits. Community organizers and policy advocates will lead a discussion on food justice, highlighting street vendors’ role in expanding access to healthy food in California’s food deserts and beyond. REGISTER HERE.


Final 2022-23 California Budget 

Finally, in case you missed it, we published Western Center’s overview of the final 2022-23 California Budget at the tail end of June. You can read it here!


 

CA lawmakers consider ending disaster price-gouging protections as high prices squeeze Californians

In the last several years, California has experienced devastating wildfires, extreme drought, a deadly pandemic, and the worst methane leak in U.S. history, among other emergencies. Unfortunately, some California landlords see opportunity in disaster. For example, after the 2015 methane leak in Aliso Canyon, landlords charged victims up to $9000 for temporary shelter. After the 2017 North Bay fires, landlords increased rents for victims by up to 36%.

Disasters aren’t new for California, but against the state’s worsening housing crisis, the importance of accessible, stable housing after disaster is clear.

The passage of AB 2820 and AB 1919 in California was meant to stop blatantly predatory conduct after disaster and strengthen protections for victims of price gouging in emergencies. Now, a few years and natural disasters later, those protections are under attack via a bill currently moving through the state legislature, SB 1133 (Archuleta). SB 1133 will undo decades of price gouging protections for Californians at a time when the state is reeling from both natural and man-made disasters and gives a green light to unscrupulous landlords to prey upon victims of emergencies by increasing rents above the allowable 10% during declarations of emergency. California can’t afford for SB 1133 to become law.

SB 1133 seeks to eliminate housing from the anti-price gouging protections in Penal Code Section 396, which is a provision of law used by advocates across the state to prevent excessive rent increases for disaster victims. When I was a tenant attorney in Los Angeles, I once relied on those anti-price gouging protections for housing to prevent unjustified and excessive rent increases for a building full of elders after a corporate landlord purchased their building. When the building sold, the new owner quickly increased rents by over 60% for everyone there, many of whom were disabled elders and all of whom already spent between 30%-40% of their limited fixed incomes on rent. The rent increases would have forced them out of their homes — the only law that kept them housed was the anti-price gouging protections for housing in PC Section 396.

Proponents of SB 1133 claim that businesses are unfairly subject to unjust punishment because of PC Section 396. However, landlords who price gouge are hardly prosecuted under this section. For example, landlords increased rent by up to 36% after the 2017 North Bay fires, which scorched more than 200,000 acres of land and forced 90,000 people to evacuate their homes. Even though the Sonoma County District attorney’s office investigated over 220 complaints of price gouging, they only filed four criminal cases against the most egregious actors, and the Attorney General only filed one criminal case. Meanwhile, people were forced to live among the toxic smoke of their burnt homes because they couldn’t afford a home to rent. SB 1133 isn’t about addressing unjust prosecution; it’s about money and creating opportunity for profit, even when the opportunity is people in need of housing after they’ve lost theirs.

Additionally, the bill’s sponsor (the California Apartment Association, a landlord lobbying group) and author say SB 1133 is necessary to increase transparency for businesses that get confused about compliance during a declaration of emergency, even though businesses have resources available at the local and state levels to determine if a proclamation of emergency is in effect. SB 1133 is not about ensuring businesses are less “confused” about emergency proclamations – that’s already in the law.

We know surviving a disaster adversely impacts individuals and communities. Studies show that long after disaster, individuals experience post-traumatic stress due to housing loss, increased health conditions like stroke, heart disease, and lifelong chronic illnesses, and increased homelessness – all of which disproportionately impact people of color.  These individual impacts coalesce to impact whole communities.

The devastating community impact after the 2018 Camp Fire — the most destructive in California history — is still felt today. The Camp Fire displaced over 80% of Paradise’s population and destroyed 90% of housing. Consequently, people were forced into neighboring communities like Chico that didn’t have the capacity to house them. At that moment, some Chico landlords increased rents by 15%, creating an immoral bidding war among survivors who were sleeping in garages, tents, and shelters. Years after the Camp Fire, communities in Paradise and the surrounding areas have seen increased housing instability and homelessness. If passed, SB1133 would allow corporations and unscrupulous landlords to capitalize on the needs of people like those who survived the Camp Fire when they are trying to survive.

You might think a bill with this much impact would receive special consideration by legislators – particularly those representing districts with victims of past and future disaster. Not only was there very little discussion about the devastating yet highly predictable potential impacts of SB 1133, the bill also passed out of its legislative policy committee with a majority vote.

But the legislature is still in session, and there is time to stop the bill. SB 1133 is currently in the California Assembly’s Appropriations Committee awaiting an August hearing date, where we will demand elected representatives vote against greed and protect displaced Californians.

Help stop price gouging after disaster. Call your state legislator and demand a NO vote on SB 1133.