Councilmember Kevin de León speaks at press conference calling for city to expedite payments of emergency rent relief program. Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas for Boyle Heights Beat

Councilmember Kevin de León is calling for the city’s housing department to expedite payments to landlords whose tenants were unable to pay rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and who applied for the city’s emergency rent relief program.

According to De León, more than 13,000 Los Angeles tenants solicited funds from the program, which took applications during the month of April. But out of $235 million available, and about $260 more due to come, the city has only paid out about $35 million.

On Friday, De León said he would introduce a motion that would require the Los Angeles Housing + Community Investment Department to report on what resources it needs to process and pay all outstanding applications by Oct. 1, and to submit weekly progress reports on the status of the emergency rental assistance.

The motion would also ask the housing department to report on how to reopen the application period and develop a waiting list for those to qualify, and to develop a multilingual outreach campaign for eligible city residents who did not submit an application because they did not have access to a digital device or faced other barriers or disabilities.

Speaking at a press conference Friday morning at Mariachi Plaza, De León said that thousands of Los Angeles residents could potentially face evictions and end up homeless, “all because of a bureaucracy that is too slow to process paperwork.”

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago joins Councilmember Kevin de León at press conference calling for city to expedite payments of emergency rent relief program.

“This isn’t like standing in the line of the DMV and getting a driver’s license. This is life and death,” De León said. “Every day is filled with fear, anxiety and panic for those families who have fallen behind in rent due to the impacts of the global pandemic.”

In his 14th council district, De León said, only 182 applications out of 8,500 received have been processed, with each approved applicant getting an average of $11,000 – for a total payout of $2 million.

“The problem we face is not funding,” the councilmember pointed out. “Our problem is the lack of urgency and creativity and a commitment to rise to the challenge of this unprecedented crisis. At the current rate the L.A. Housing Department is completing rent relief applications and finalizing payments, it will literally take 18 months to close the books on eligible recipients who made the application deadline.”

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, who attended the press conference and supported the measure, urged the city to reopen the application process.

“The people in the neighborhoods who needed the [relief] the most were the ones who weren’t reached [in the first round],” said Santiago, who estimated that as many as 100,000 tenants in his district may be eligible – including the undocumented.

“Those people who we’re targeting the most have been left out of the process,” Santiago said. “So we’re here to fight because we want our community to access those dollars.”

Groups representing apartment owners and landlords, community service providers and tenant advocacy groups joined the two elected officials at the press conference, in support of De León’s measure.

Organizer Fevi Sánchez

“Many of us have been living through the worst crisis we have ever lived in our lives. I haven’t been able to sustain my family like before.”

Favi Sánchez

Ruby Rivera, an organizer with Inner City Struggle, said that some tenants she has spoken with have faced harassment from their landlords, endured threats of violent eviction and some even “self-evicted.”

“We haven’t even begun to see the long term impact of the rent debt on tenants’ access to housing in the future as well as on their credit,” Rivera said. “The state has promised to cover all of the rents for tenants for the past 18 months, that’s great. But the promise is only good if tenants are able to access that relief.”

“The truth is, tenants who were already struggling well before the pandemic, paying the majority of their income toward rent, won’t be able to pay back the rent they own without the government stepping in,” Rivera added. “Even with the city’s repayment period, tenants need assistance.”

Fevi Sánchez, an organizer with the Community Power Collective, said that she knew of hundreds of people in Boyle Heights and East LA struggling financially, and that she had firsthand knowledge of the insecurity experienced by tenants unable to pay their rent during the pandemic.

“I am also a tenant,” Sanchez said. “I’m a mother of five children. I know all the struggles that the tenants here in my community have been facing.” 

“Losing my job, not being able to pay my rent has left me with a big rent gap,” she detailed. “Many of us have been living through the worst crisis we have ever lived in our lives. I haven’t been able to sustain my family like before.”

Sánchez said her organization helped about 70 tenants fill out applications for relief, a lengthy complicated process in some cases, yet none of the applications have been processed. She said she is also concerned about people who were not able to apply in April and would not be protected once the city’s eviction moratorium is lifted.

“In order for us to have those protections against eviction, you have to show that [you applied]  for the program,” Sánchez said.  “We need the city to open up the application and communicate clearly with people who are applying and [tell them] what is going on.”

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Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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