Credit: Illustration by Chris Allen, BVN

Last Updated on March 28, 2022 by BVN

Breanna Reeves |

With the deployment of the SMARTER Plan by Governor Gavin Newsom, California is working to restore a sense of normalcy as COVID-19 restrictions become recommendations instead of requirements. As masking requirements expire, Californians are returning to a pre-pandemic way of life in some ways, including returning to a housing crisis.

Landlords will be allowed to evict tenants who fail to pay rent by April. Despite the now expired eviction moratorium and current emergency rental relief programs, thousands of tenants may be houseless by the end of the month. 

According to a new analysis of housing in California, the National Equity Atlas found that at the beginning of February 2022, 740,000 renter households in California owed their landlords more than $3 billion in back rent. A large portion of those renters are identified as low-income households who experienced job and income loss during the pandemic.

Many Californians had trouble uploading the rental assistance application and submitting it on her own. (source: actionnetwork.org)

Thousands of renters and homeowners were unable to pay their rent and mortgages during the pandemic, resulting in California residents owing millions of dollars in back rent and facing eviction. During the pandemic, the governor enacted eviction protections and the state received $5.2 billion from the federal government to help those behind on rent and mortgage payments as well as keep landlords paid.

Under California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, limited protections for renters are still available until March 31 if they are able to submit a rental relief application. Applicants have reported difficulties completing the complicated applications and many of those who have submitted applications have expressed waiting for long periods of time to receive rental relief funds.

During the media briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services (EMS), Eric Johnson, Information Officer, Marketing and Communications Division at the California Housing Finance Agency, explained that one of the difficulties in applying for rental assistance is due to language barriers.

“The majority of people who are rent-burdened in California — that means they pay more than 50% of their income toward rent — the majority that suffer the rent burden do not speak English as a first language,” Johnson explained. “About 36% speak Spanish at home, another 4% speak Chinese at home and 12% of people speak another language.”

These renters who do not speak English as a first language face barriers to receiving and understanding announcements regarding the availability of rental assistance. Other tenants have trouble navigating the application process due to its complexity. 

Tenant’s Together, a statewide renters’ rights organization, surveyed 58 organizations in 27 counties representing 88% of California tenants to understand how problems with the state’s rental assistance application is impacting residents. According to the results, 90% of respondents had difficulty accessing the online application and 82% had difficulty getting information and pending applications.

In March 2020 CA Governor Gavin Newsom took Executive Action to Establish a Statewide Moratorium on Evictions. With the  moratorium now expired, thousands are at risk of being evicted beginning in April. (source: gov.ca.gov)

Housing counselors are available to help residents

Toni Stovall, a resident who lives in Rialto, explained that she heard about rental assistance and decided to apply because she was behind on rent. Completing the application was difficult for Stovall, who had trouble uploading the application and submitting it on her own.

“I finally found myself getting a little frustrated, and I contacted Karen Wiggins over at Inland Empire Resource Center,” Stovall said. “I explained to her my situation and told her I really needed help with the rental assistance program application, because at that point, my rent was significantly behind.”

According to the National Equity Atlas, in California, about 50% of rental assistance applications are currently under review as of March 23rd, with 20% of cases marked as paid and 5% pending payment following a submitted and approved application. In San Bernardino County, 71% of rental applications are currently under review. The dashboard was unable to provide data for Riverside County which local rental assistance programs.

Housing counselors encourage those applying for assistance to seek help from certified U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing counselors who can walk them through the application process.

“With the program, I do want to say you have to have patience. As long as you get your application in and submit everything that you need to, I promise they will take care of you over there at (Inland Empire Resource Center) because they don’t let you drop the ball,” Stovall explained.

Linda Jackson, executive director of the Inland Empire Resource Center, emphasized that the rental relief is not just for tenants, but also for landlords. She explained that counselors can help applicants through every step of the application process and confirm that their applications contain all necessary documentation which should ensure approval for rental assistance. Landlords should be aware that they’re tenants are seeking rental assistance in order to receive payment for rent.

“I know we don’t have a lot of time, but we still have time to get [tenants and landlords] in the queue,” Jackson said. She encouraged anyone who needs help with their rental assistance application to complete this client intake form to receive some guidance.

Along with renters and landlords, homeowners who are behind on mortgage payments also have assistance options through California’s Housing is Key program. Homeowners who need help with back payments as a result of pandemic-related hardships can apply for a grant through the California Homeowners Relief Program.

Eligible applicants must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Household income at or below 100% of their county’s Area Median Income;
  • Missed at least two mortgage payments prior to December 27, 2021;
  • Own a single-family home, condo or permanently affixed manufactured home; and
  • Faced a pandemic-related financial hardship after January 21, 2020

With the deadline to apply for emergency rental assistance quickly approaching on March 31, housing advocates are calling for an extension for eviction protections as applications are still pending and tenants face eviction. The National Equity Access suggested policy changes in order to achieve an equitable recovery, such as “[streamlining] the application and approval process to ensure funds reach tenants in time to prevent eviction.”

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.