Long Beach tenants who have missed payments due to the pandemic could soon be in line for relief after the city collected federal and state money to create a nearly $29 million renter relief fund.

The fund will largely go toward paying back rent for eligible residents who apply for the program, but it could also be used to pay utilities that are in arrears or other household costs. In total, the money could be used to pay up to 80% of a tenant’s unpaid rent if their landlords agree to forgive the remaining 20%.

Details of the application process are still being hammered out. For instance, it’s unclear when Long Beach will begin its program, but the state requires that municipalities who got funding begin receiving applications no later than March 15.

The state also requires that certain populations be prioritized, with households making 50% or less of the area median income ($35,350 for a family of four in Los Angeles County) being first. Next are communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and households making 80% of the area median income ($56,560 for a family of four).

The city had launched a $5 million tenant assistance program over the summer that paid up to $1,000 per month for three months for qualifying renters, but that pool of money was so small that the city resorted to using a lottery system to pick winners.

Mayor Robert Garcia announced the new, much larger tenant assistance program during his annual state of the city address in January, but at the time it only included $13.8 million the city had already received directly from the federal government.  The additional money from the state more than doubled the program’s capacity.

“What we’re looking at in front of us is by far the single largest opportunity to help tenants, particularly during this pandemic, than we’ve ever had as a city,” Garcia said Tuesday.

The federal funding for the new program comes as a result of a rental relief program adopted by Congress in December that sent $25 billion to states, $2.6 of which went to California. $1.1 billion was distributed directly to counties and large cities while the remaining $1.5 billion is being allocated through the states program that was formalized through Senate Bill 91.

SB-91, which cleared the legislature in late January, extended the state’s eviction moratorium through June 2021 and also created block grants for individual cities. The state reserved $14.8 million for Long Beach.

Under the rules laid out in the state bill, the city must allocate 65% of its funds by June 1 and all of them by Aug. 1 or risk having the remaining funding pulled back. The federal funds would be recaptured if not used by the end of September.

The City Council voted on Tuesday to have Long Beach take control of distributing the funding to residents instead of letting the state handle the process for its portion of the funding.

Multiple council members agreed this would make for an easier application process for residents and avoid the risk and complications associated with overlapping or improper payments if the state and federal monies are distributed through separate processes.

Alternatives included letting the state distribute all the funds, something that could provide faster access to residents because the state has infrastructure in place already. However, that option did not meet the council’s request to create a customized program.

The cost to run the program is currently unknown, but both the federal and state money provides a 10% allowance for administration costs.

A staff memo noted that there is a “slight risk” city funding would be needed to cover the cost of a contractor to administer the funds in addition to paying for city staff being diverted to work on the project.

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