Last Call: Free Rent $$$ Before Eviction
By Dianne Anderson
Thousands of struggling renters and homeowners are now in a mad rush to get their applications in the queue to keep a roof over their heads.
There is no time to waste. March 31 is the hard deadline.
Some renters are behind by several thousands of dollars, and many are up against eviction. Advocates warn this is the last sure thing for renters and landlords to avoid losing a potential payment to cover back due rent.
Linda Jackson, Executive Director, Inland Empire Resource Center, is a HUD Certified Housing Counselor, who brings her message loud and clear across Orange County, Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire.
“I’ve been talking about this for two years to let me get you in the queue. Now I’m being bombarded, everybody wants in the queue before the end of this month,” she said in an interview with the Precinct Reporter.
According to a recent report by National Equity Atlas, even as the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) is set to expire, hundreds of thousands are still waiting for help in California.
Blacks are getting hit the hardest by high rents because they happen to be the lowest of all in homeownership. The latest Census quarterly reports that Blacks have the lowest homeownership in the nation at 43.1%, compared to Hispanics at 48.4%, and whites had the highest rate of ownership at 74.4 percent.
“Black wealth matters. We don’t own land, which means we have no choices so we get stuck in rentals. Rent is going to go up to a point and you’re not going to be able to afford to live there either,” she said. “We have a heavy list of people [in need] in my opinion, I can say this as a Black woman.”
At a recent briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services and California Black Media, Jackson spoke of her statewide push to help renters get their required completed packets to the state “Housing Is Key,” which makes the decision on applications. Landlords must also make sure tenant information is correct to avoid fraud.
“Landlords really want to make sure they’re in on this,” Jackson said. “I know that we don’t have a lot of time, but we still have time to get you in the queue.”
Sandy Close, Executive Director of Ethnic Media Services, facilitated the briefing, “Masks Are Coming Off, But the CA Housing Industry Remains Unstable: Housing Counselors Share Resources to Keep You in Your Home.” She asked Jackson what makes the housing crisis in the IE unique at this time.
Jackson said 12 years ago, help wasn’t available through the mortgage crisis and housing loss, which was fueled by many subprime loans. This time with the pandemic, money is available right now for those working with certified HUD counselors.
In the past, the community could never access free grants to pay their back due rent.
“That is the reason why I don’t want you to give up hope. I don’t want you to be fearful of losing your house, I don’t want you to stay up all night not knowing what to do,” she said.
Toni Stovall, an African American Inland Empire renter, said until the pandemic, she was a good payer, but fell behind. She tried to handle the application by herself, but it wouldn’t go through the “Housing Is Key” website.
Jackson’s IE Resource Center came to the rescue.
Stovall didn’t expect to be approved, and nearly cried when she received rent relief. Since then, she has referred several friends who also were a year or more behind, and now cleared of rent debt.
“I’ve never really seen people [at IE Resource Center] so invested in helping you get the funds because a lot of people are going through a lot of different issues. Sometimes people don’t know where they can get help,” she said.
As of January of this year, Eric Johnson said 721,000 people owed more than $3.3 billion in back rent. Mom and pop landlords are also taking a hit, including those renting ADU’S [Additional Dwelling Unit] in their backyards.
Most rent burdened in California have half of their income going toward rent. The majority do not speak English as their first language. About 36% speak Spanish at home, 4% speak Chinese at home and 12% speak another language.
“They can’t understand it, and that’s horrible, and that’s why we’re here today. That’s so important to be able to get this message out into the communities and people know there is help” said Johnson, Information Officer with the California Housing Finance Agency.
Through the National Mortgage Settlement Council program, the state has $73.5 million for free counseling at dozens of federally approved HUD agencies to help the community. CALFA has 76 different counseling agencies with over 217 housing counselors available. Services are multi-lingual and also for homeowners. So far, they’ve helped 23,000 people.
At the same time, Johnson cautions the scams are abundant.
“If somebody asks somebody for money to help with their situation, run away as fast as you can because those people are not going to help you. You always want to go to free counseling,” he said.
Anyone behind on their rent back to the start of the pandemic in March of 2020 must apply for Emergency Rental Assistance now.
“People – apply as fast as you can,” he said. “They’re accepting applications until March 31. If you apply before the 31st you’ll be in the system, even if you get a partial application, you’ll be in the system.”
Attorney and housing advocate Maeve Elise Brown addressed mounting housing challenges in the Bay Area. In these vulnerable times, she said the community needs to keep their eyes open.
“I’m thinking about homeowners getting wrapped up in foreclosure risky scams paying thousands of dollars to realtors, real estate brokers, auto dealers who decided to go into foreclosure rescue scam businesses,” she said, adding that even some lawyers were in the fray committing terrible scams during the last foreclosure crisis.
Brown, executive director of Housing & Economic Rights Advocates, says there are master tenants renting out rooms, but many “roommate” renters are not aware of their rights. The landlords also do not know, or adhere to, landlord rules.
She sees a lot of discrimination and disability complaints. Fair access is one type of protection, such as allowing a caretaker to live in the unit, or better parking and laundry inside the unit are a few examples of reasonable accommodations.
Her tenant clients also face significant illegal rent increases, especially in areas not covered by rent control law. She said habitability problems also top the list of violations, and refusal or failure of landlords to make repairs.
“It’s very messy out there for a lot of landlords who feel resentful about nonpayment of rent, [they’re] getting a lot of push back from small landlords who are wondering how they’re going to make repairs without rent, not realizing they’re legally obligated to make repairs one way or the other,” she said.
For more information, see https://www.ieresourcecenters.org
or see, https://www.calhfa.ca.gov/