People pass a “for rent” sign outside an apartment complex on Ocean Boulevard. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

As getting relief money into the hands of landlords for tenants who were unable to pay rent during the pandemic remains a slow process, the Long Beach City Council asked city officials to tweak the program to make it more efficient.

The statewide eviction moratorium ended Sept. 30 and landlords can now begin evicting residential tenants who have not already applied for rent relief programs like the one in Long Beach. Those who have already applied are protected from evictions through March 2022.

Long Beach was granted $64 million in rent relief fund from the state and federal government but has only allocated about $19.6 million of it to people who have applied for aid, according to a city memo published Monday.

Renters need to have a household income of at or below 50% and 80% of the area median income to qualify for aid, with those under 50% being prioritized. Those income limits mean a family of four could make between $56,300 and $90,100 and qualify for help.

The city is not alone in its slow distribution rate. Just 38% of the $25 billion in total funding made available in the first round of federal funding has been spent nationwide, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which tracks rent relief programs in all 50 states.

Councilman Rex Richardson asked city management to look at making a simpler, streamlined application that could allow landlords to apply on behalf of multiple tenants who might qualify for rent assistance.

Richardson’s request also asked for an additional three months of rent to be covered for tenants who apply and for the data to be made publicly available on a dashboard, something many other cities across the country already do.

Richardson said there are nearly 16,000 renters behind on rent and at the city’s current pace it wouldn’t use all of its rent relief funding until August 2022. Making the application simpler and broader by allowing landlords to apply for multiple tenants at once could allow hard to reach tenants and those unaware of the program to be covered, he said.

“We want to make it easier to protect more people,” Richardson said Tuesday.

The city’s rental assistance program has been slow to get its money out the door. Development Services Director Oscar Orci said in a memo published in advance of the meeting that about $19.6 million of the city’s $64 million in rental aid funding had been approved and distributed to landlords.

The city has seen nearly 20,000 people register as applicants but only 7,105 applications have been competed, according to the memo. There are over 9,700 open cases waiting for approval, Orci said.

Simplifying the application process was widely supported but some commenters asked the city to lobby for more flexible income requirements noting that the 80% area median income cap could be excluding people who need help but can’t qualify based on their old income.

“That income level is what makes it extremely difficult for everyone in Long Beach,” said Mike Murchison, a lobbyist who represents small property owners in Long Beach. “If that doesn’t change we’re going to be in the same boat months from now.”

Long Beach Deputy Director of Development Services Chris Koontz said that if tenants can prove that they lost their job or have qualified for other aid like food assistance programs, they can be approved for the city’s rental program. Koontz said the city encourages them to apply but those are more complicated cases and would take longer to approve.

“We are working on those cases that are more complex or difficult, but they require hours of staff time and we have thousands of pending applications,” Koontz said.

The United States Treasury has warned states, counties and cities that it would begin reclaiming unspent funds, however, in guidance released Tuesday,it doesn’t appear Long Beach is in danger of losing any funds immediately.

It could be in line to apply for additional aid that the Treasury intends to distribute over the next few months after it reclaims it from underperforming agencies.

Long Beach has distributed or is in the process of approving $19.6 million of the first $30 million it received from state and federal agencies. Because the allocations were broken up into two batches, Long Beach has actually allocated about 64.9% of its first round of funding as of September.

The city entered into a one-year contract with Yardi Systems Inc. in April to administer its rent relief program at a cost of $1.4 million.

The contract could be increased to as much as $5.3 million if the council votes to increase funding to Yardi so it can send more case workers into the field to help close out case files faster. The council is expected to vote on the contract at its Oct. 12 meeting.

[Editors note: To qualify, residents need to have a household income of less than 80% of the area median income, but those under 50% AMI will be prioritized. The story has been updated.]

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.