City will consider simplifying application for rental assistance in hopes of distributing more money

With existing eviction moratoriums about to expire and Long Beach still having over $46 million in unspent money intended to help tenants pay their rent, the city will consider streamlining the application process in hopes of making it easier to apply.

Councilman Rex Richardson added a request to the City Council’s Oct. 5 agenda that asks the Development Services department to look at creating a single application that landlords could fill out on behalf of multiple tenants that may qualify for the program.

It could also provide an additional three months of rent coverage for tenants if they’re entered into the city’s program and asks the department to make the program’s data available on a public dashboard.

Richardson’s letter to the City Council notes that there are still thousands of unfilled applications or incomplete ones, likely due to the amount of paperwork required by the program to assess an applicants’ eligibility for aid. Long Beach received $64 million in rent assistance funds from state and federal agencies but like other cities it has struggled to get that money out to tenants’ landlords to cover past-due rents.

As of September the city had distributed about $18 million with just days remaining on Los Angeles County’s eviction moratorium that expires on Thursday.

“Despite ranking above peer cities in rental assistance provided, the eviction crisis tenants face requires a more signifiant response,” Richardson wrote. “At its current rate of rental assistance disbursement, Long Beach will not be able to pay out its full allocation until August of 2022.”

Richardson’s office said Monday he hopes the proposed change will also include proactive outreach by Development Services staff, possibly knocking on doors at buildings where there are several incomplete applications, to help get them completed and possibly get more of their neighbors who may be eligible but haven’t heard of the assistance program to sign up.

This approach could help lower-income tenants who could qualify for the program but lack the documentation or a connection to the internet to access the city’s application portal.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors could vote Tuesday morning to extend the countywide eviction moratorium through Jan. 31 of next year, which could provide more time for the city to distribute rent assistance funding.

Supervisors had said in June when I last extended the moratorium that it was “the last time” it would extend eviction protection for tenants. The extension in June also required tenants to show a good faith effort to apply for rent assistance funds.

After closing the application window multiple times the city’s Development Services department said in August that it would leave Long Beach’s program open until all of the funds were exhausted.

That announcement came after the U.S. Treasury Department said it was loosening rules for applicants by allowing them to self attest to things like household income, risk of homelessness or financial hardship, all of which previously required documentation.

The Treasury can begin to take back unallocated money from cities and counties that haven’t moved enough money to pay for tenants’ rents, but it has yet to announce a threshold for when it will start to take back funds from cities.

As of August, the last month the Treasury has data for rent assistance program spending, Long Beach ($13.8 million) was behind cities like San Jose ($30.4 million) and Sacramento ($15.3 million) but was ahead of Oakland ($12.9 million) and Anaheim ($10.4 million) in the amount of aid distributed.

The Treasury could give cities that allocate at least 65% of their rental assistance money even more rent assistance money over the next few months. A letter sent out by the Treasury to program administrators last week said that the funding would likely be kept in the same state and that the amount of money reclaimed would be on a sliding scale based on how close a city is to the minimum spending ratio.

Long Beach has distributed about 29% of its funding.

Richardson’s item is expected to be voted on at the council’s Oct. 5 meeting. It’s unclear what kind of additional funding the city might need to pay for the approach outlined in the item but the city is using a portion of the rent assistance funding to pay for the administration of the program and Richardson’s office said that could be a source to pay for additional staffing.

The eviction moratorium is set to end this month; here’s what renters, landlords can expect

US Treasury loosens rules for rental assistance program as billions remain unspent

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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