“Tenants are facing eviction even as their landlords are given these giant checks and tenants who are eligible for assistance are being denied with these cryptic notices that don’t tell them why. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Madeline Howard, a senior staff attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty, one of the groups suing the state over the program.”
“As of tomorrow, even if the tenant is waiting to get rental assistance for the months of rent that are demanded in an eviction case, the landlord can go ahead and evict them,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty.”
“Madeline Howard, senior attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said thousands of vulnerable Californians could lose their housing as of Friday. Howard is one of the attorneys in two lawsuits that a coalition of tenant advocacy groups brought against the Department of Housing and Community Development after it closed the application portal.”
Western Center senior attorney Lorraine Lopez was on KPFA Radio in the Bay Area to discuss the lawsuit Western Center and our partners filed on behalf of tenant groups, accusing California’s Department of Housing and Community Development of discrimination and denying Californians due process in applications for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
Listen Here (Interview starts at one hour 34 minute mark)
“The groups claim the program has denied funding to hundreds of thousands of tenants without specific reasons or adequate opportunities to appeal. HCD has also made it more challenging for non-English-speaking tenants to communicate with program officials, the lawsuit said. The groups are represented by the Western Center on Law & Poverty, Public Counsel, and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. They filed the lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court.”
“California tenants rights groups have sued the state, claiming its process for denying emergency rental assistance isn’t fair. The lawsuit comes as pandemic-related eviction protections are set to expire at the end of the month.”
Listen here (6 minute mark)
“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.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Lawsuit says Department’s cutoff date for assistance means many tenants who receive rental assistance are still at risk of eviction
Los Angeles, CA – The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is being sued by tenants’ rights groups Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE Action) and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) over its failure to provide the full amount of rental assistance intended by the law establishing the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), putting tenants at increased risk of eviction and homelessness. ACCE and SAJE are represented by Western Center on Law & Poverty, Public Counsel, and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
As people waited for HCD’s often onerous system to process applications, HCD abruptly stopped accepting applications on March 31, 2022, cutting off people in need of assistance after that point even when they qualify for but have not yet received their full 18 months of rental assistance. Specifically, the suit says HCD is not providing assistance for prospective rent or expenses incurred after March 31, 2022, even for eligible households that submitted an ERAP application before applications closed. This means applicants who were unable to pay April rent or beyond could still face eviction even if HCD approves their application, thereby defeating ERAP’s goal of preventing eviction and stabilizing households.
“When I heard about the ERAP program, I got very happy because I was impacted by COVID-19, and I lost my job,” said Dionicia Cipres, tenant and SAJE member. “I sent my ERAP application and I got approved for a few months, but I was put on hold for February and March. I had initially put down the April and May rents on my application, but when the March 31st deadline was announced, those months were not included and had to be removed. I don’t know how I’m going to pay June because I don’t have steady income.”
As California considers new proposals to combat homelessness, the ERAP program is intended to stop people from becoming homeless where it often starts — eviction.
“I was temporarily laid off from my job because of the pandemic and have not been able to get back to work,” said Isabel Tabora, ACCE member and tenant. “I applied for rental assistance but was told by the state program that they will not help me for April and May, even though I can’t pay rent for those months. Now my landlord has given me a 3-day notice for April. I am afraid that I will be homeless without more rental assistance.”
The highly publicized decision by lawmakers for ERAP to cover 100% of an eligible household’s rent debt is essential for preventing evictions — tenants will be evicted unless all of their rent debt is resolved.
“An eviction is a scarlet letter for most renters, but especially low-income renters who have fewer options,” said Jonathan Jager, staff attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “If the ERAP program is supposed to prevent homelessness, it doesn’t make sense to provide assistance in a way that still leaves tenants vulnerable to being evicted.”
Under HCD’s current practice, landlords can still receive large ERAP payments while their tenants are evicted for non-payment of April 2022 rent. The Census Household Pulse Survey estimates that 32 percent of California renter households with pending rental assistance applications were “not at all confident” in their ability to pay April rent.
“The pandemic and its economic fallout is not over yet, particularly for low-income Californians — we’ve heard from many tenants that they are unable to pay April rent and beyond,” said Greg Bonett, staff attorney at Public Counsel. “For a tenant to face eviction while the state sends their landlord a check is absolutely confounding. By cutting off rental assistance, HCD’s policy is largely harming renters of color and allowing landlords to get paid and still evict their tenants.”
The lawsuit seeks to compel HCD to immediately reverse policies that stop payments to tenants for debt accrued after the sudden and arbitrary March 31, 2022 cutoff date, and to make available the full 18 months of rental assistance to all eligible applicants.
“California received billions of dollars from the federal government and has a significant state budget surplus — more than enough to keep people housed through ERAP,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “In the midst of a homelessness and housing affordability crisis, the state must use its resources to keep people in the homes they already have so as not to compound the crisis.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”