With end of Long Beach’s rental assistance, are evictions around the corner?

Two weeks ago, Steve Hyta came home to find a letter from his landlord. It demanded that within three days, he either pay $3,575 in back rent or leave his Franklin neighborhood home of four years.

“My legs felt like they were going to collapse,” Hyta said. “I almost felt sick to my stomach, like I was going to puke.”

After waiting three months, his application for rental assistance had been denied by the city. There wasn’t much work during the pandemic shutdowns and when there was, he worked on and off trying to avoid getting infected.

“I didn’t want to get COVID living at home with five people,” he said. And so the debt piled up.

Hyta’s partner, who goes by Mx. J Nyla, went to social media to help raise funds, worried about where they and their Jack Chi dog Pokey will go if they couldn’t pay off the debt that was suddenly asked to be paid in full.

“If something’s happening to them, it’s happening to me, too,” Nyla said.

Lawyers and community advocates worry about an uptick in evictions following the end of Long Beach’s and the state’s rental assistance that sought to keep tenants and landlords afloat amid the pandemic’s economic fallout.

The city’s window to apply for aid closed March 30, the same day as the state’s, because “the total requested amount by applicants has far exceeded current available funds,” said a city Development Services spokesperson, adding that state law did not extend the application window.

As of Wednesday, a final 964 initially-approved cases are awaiting final approval for payment, according to the city. And, so far, 6,550 of the 15,904 total applicants who submitted a complete application have received city relief payments.

“Right now we’re anticipating an eviction cliff for tenants, especially since rental assistance expired,” said Paula Abad, a right-to-counsel coordinator with tenant advocacy group Long Beach Residents Empowered (LiBRE).

Jennifer Baez-Silva, supervising attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, agreed there may be a local bump in evictions to come. Long Beach has the second busiest courthouse for evictions in the region, she said, which moves quickly to process cases.

“Long Beach frustrates me to no end compared to Santa Monica and Inglewood,” she said. “Long Beach is tough on tenants.”

Last year, a CalMatters analysis considered Long Beach to be a hotbed for evictions in the county, with 221 evictions occurring in the city between July 2020 and March 2021.

As for Hyta and Nyla, the couple thought if they didn’t pay up they would be evicted three days later.

“That means we would’ve been evicted on my birthday,” Nyla said, “which is garbage.”

Typically though, an eviction process can take about 30 days, said Baez-Silva. In fear, the couple quickly moved to pay off the back rent upon reading the notice, which, in its language, “required” Hyatt to choose only one of two options: pay the rent or move out.

It’s common for tenants to think they have to pay right away or self-exit, said Abad, but “it’s not the case. There’s still a chance for them to fight it.” Instead, she recommends tenants quickly reach out to legal counsel or groups like LiBRE.

By the end of the program, about 7,000 tenants and landlords in Long Beach will have received $56.7 million in rental relief funds, which the city received from federal and state coffers.

Fred Sutton, Senior Vice President of the California Apartment Association, said it has been long past time for the eviction moratorium and related items in the county to wind down.

“There’s been ample time for people to seek assistance,” said Sutton, who’s based in Long Beach. “Our main concern is that there’s a lot of people out there and a lot of housing providers who have not been made whole as of yet.”

As for a coming rise in evictions, Sutton disputes that, citing various tenant protections in place, including at the state level.

With extensions on the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act, tenants who amassed rent debt between March 2020 and the end of September 2021 can’t be evicted due to that debt as long as they submitted a pandemic-related hardship declaration and, in some cases, paid 25% of the rent.

“When you hear individuals saying that there’s an eviction tsunami coming, it is totally bogus and overblown,” he said. “Nationwide, we are not seeing any eviction tsunami that was constantly used from advocates. It’s just not materializing. It’s just rhetoric.”

Local advocates, however, said they continue to see some fall through the cracks, with the most vulnerable being those with limited English or internet access, people of color and tenants who just don’t get along with their landlords, according to Baez-Silva.

“We’ve still been seeing evictions happen during the pandemic despite the moratoriums,” said Abad.

Current tenant protections

Currently, tenants who have a pending rental assistance case are protected from eviction.

Long Beach also falls under Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 Tenant Protections Resolution (formerly the Los Angeles County Eviction Moratorium) which includes various protections. Starting July 1, tenants struggling to pay rent will be protected from eviction if they are below 80% of area median income and demonstrate suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19 and have applied for rental payment assistance.

More streams of relief funds might come Long Beach’s way, however, but only for those who had already applied and did not receive assistance. The funds might likely come from the U.S. Treasury’s recaptured funds or California’s new forgivable loan program for cities with Emergency Rental Assistance programs, according to the Development Services office.

The city is applying for up to $28 million in additional rent-relief funding that would go to those households who already had completed applications in the city’s system before the March 30 cutoff date. The money would come in the form of a loan from the state that would either be paid back with recaptured Treasury funds or be forgiven by the state.

Community as fallback

Nyla has worked in Long Beach as a community healer and with mutual aid circles—a movement among activists to build long-term community support networks where they continually volunteer and exchange resources with the anticipation that, one day, they would need help, too.

And the help sure did come.The couple raised enough funds via Instagram within 24 hours and, in return to donors, Nyla is offering their typical services: tarot card divination work, breathwork, gender-affirming life coaching and more.“When you tap into community, you’re protected,” said Nyla, who goes by they pronouns. They added, “I organize with a lot of people that understand what mutual aid is… I did a lot of work to make sure I have the safety net I have.”

Still, Nyla worries what will happen to tenants who have disabilities or go without strong community ties.

“The support is out there for the people who are able to have reciprocity. That’s my biggest concern though, the people that aren’t able to reciprocate.”

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