With time running out, Long Beach’s rent-relief funds are trickling out to tenants, landlords

Long Beach has distributed or approved about 10% of the $51 million it received from the state and federal government to help tenants and landlords settle unpaid rents, and the program’s application process is coming to a close Sunday.

Over 10,000 renters and landlords have filled out initial registration but only 3,635 had submitted official applications for aid, according to Richard De La Torre, a spokesperson for the city’s Development Services department, which is running the rent assistance program.

As of this week, $5 million had either been distributed or approved for distribution as the program’s July 11 deadline to apply approaches. While state and county officials extended bans on evictions for pandemic-related non-payment of rent through September, De La Torre said the city has yet to decide if it will extend the program’s application period again.

“The Department is aware of the county and state actions regarding the moratorium on evictions,” De La Torre said in an email. “As of now, the application deadline is scheduled for July 11 as planned. However, staff will be evaluating application data to determine if the deadline may need to be extended.”

The program was available to residents of Long Beach making 80% of the area median income or less, with those making 50% of area median income being prioritized first. The city defined 80% as $90,100 for a family of four or $53,300 for those at 50% of the area median income.

All applicants had to show proof of income loss due to the pandemic and a host of other documents like rental agreements, proof of income and proof of housing instability, like an eviction notice. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last month that the program would now cover 100% of unpaid rent, rather than the 80% deal that was crafted by lawmakers earlier this year.

It’s unclear how many Long Beach households have been helped to date, or how many applications were submitted by tenants whose landlords opted not to participate in the program. De La Torre said both of those figures were not readily available.

Rollouts have been slow nationwide with a fraction of the $46.5 billion that Congress allocated during the pandemic to help renters settle debts that accumulated as they lost income due to the pandemic.

As of late June, Arizona had distributed just 10% of the $500 million it received from the federal government. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida have either not spent or reallocated $250 million in aid meant to help renters, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press.

The Washington Post reported this week that just $1.5 billion of the $25 billion appropriated by the United States Treasury in December to help renters has actually been spent on rent, utilities or arrears between January and May 2021. The treasury does not have data on how the second allotment of $21 billion allocated through the American Rescue Plan has been used.

There have been a multitude of issues contributing to the slow pace of aid reaching renters and landlords from many cities—like Long Beach—creating and staffing a program from scratch to issues reaching vulnerable populations who may need the aid most and income limits that have blocked many from applying.

Mike Murchison, a lobbyist representing the Small Property Owners Alliance, has been critical of the program for months because it limits who can apply by income level even though people of all incomes lost jobs and may have not paid rent during the pandemic.

“If the federal government and the state really wanted to give 100% of rent to the landlords, they’d get rid of the strings and have the landlords apply for the relief,” Murchison said.

A U.S. Treasury spokesperson said the department has the ability to reallocate unspent rent-relief funds beginning in the fall.

De La Torre said in an email that the city does not expect to have leftover funds at the end of the city’s program.

With just over a day to meet the current application deadline, there are still community groups holding pop-up events to help renters fill out applications and get their files into the city’s hands before it closes the door on the program Sunday night.

Hilda Gaytan, president and co-founder of Puente Latino Association, an organization hired by the city to do outreach for the rental assistance program in Latino neighborhoods, is hosting a last-minute event in North Long Beach Saturday.

Gaytan said she’s fearful that many residents in need will miss out on getting rent relief either because they took out personal loans and used other lines of credit to survive the pandemic—both of which don’t qualify for aid under the program—or because they didn’t trust the process.

Trust in the program could have been boosted by money flowing more quickly to residents, which could have helped spur more people into action because there was proof that the relief program was real, Gaytan said. Unfortunately, the money did not move fast enough and skepticism remains, she added.

The outreach work that she’s been doing this year has been rewarding, though, because her team has been able to help people figure out basic functions on their phones, like how to use their email and how to fill out online applications. Gaytan is hopeful this will make those people’s lives easier next time they need to apply for something through the city.

“This has been a very painful experience but a rewarding one because I learned so much about the community and their pain and their needs,” Gaytan said.

The deadline to apply for the Long Beach Emergency Rental Assistance Program is Sunday, July 11. Applications can be submitted here

Supervisors extend eviction moratorium through September but could require tenants to prove hardship, apply for rent assistance

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