Long Beach looks at giving money directly to residents to cover rent

Long Beach is looking at the possibility of giving money to renters to cover their housing costs. Following the lead of county officials, the City Council voted Tuesday to explore ways of finding funding to make the direct payments.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan last week intended to use federal coronavirus relief funding from the CARES Act to give renters in the county up to $1,000 a month for three months to help bridge the gap of lost wages caused by COVID-19 closures.

The board’s plan could use federal Community Development Block Grant money, typically reserved for low and moderate income households, to fund the program, but it could also use private and philanthropic sources to grow the pool of available money.

The Long Beach council said it wants to pursue a similar path to provide rental assistance to its residents. Many of the details, however, still have to be worked out.

Tuesday night’s vote builds on an earlier actions the City Council has taken to protect renters including an eviction moratorium last month that lets some residents put off paying rents until June. Any outstanding balance owed to landlords would be due by the end of November.

“I worry about the back rent and how difficult that’s going to be for people to pay,” said Councilwoman Suzie Price, who said that she will likely experience the same struggle with her small business in Belmont Shore. “It’s really going to be backbreaking. It’s a significant burden to put on a small business and I can only imagine what that will be for families, many of who are out of jobs.”

Several council members made the point that helping people pay rent would also support landlords, many of whom have gone without full payments in April and can expect a similar situation in May.

How much funding the city is expecting to receive from the CARES Act is unclear but it could seek to use the same kinds of funding the county identified in its meeting last week. However, like the county’s plan, using Community Development Block Grant money could restrict who is eligible to apply for it.

Councilman Rex Richardson said that the city should be careful in how it allocates that limited grant money because businesses in line for that pool of funding will also need help opening up their doors when stay-at-home orders are lifted. He also asked that any plan come with some criteria that could target those residents who “really need it.”

“I just want to make sure we have some criteria that really rewards people’s willingness to really work together with landlords to get it done,” Richardson said.

An implementation plan for the county’s program is not expected back before the middle of May. In Long Beach, the council did not set a date for when it expects back a report that could outline the city’s options.

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