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BY AARON MENDELSON/LAist

Originally published on April 23, 2020 

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to create a program to help people pay their rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initially set up with $2.2 million, the fund is for “families that are already struggling to pay their rent, and are living paycheck to paycheck,” said Council President Nury Martínez, who co-sponsored the motion with Councilman Herb Wesson.

A report from the city’s housing department lays out the details of the fund:

  • It will be available to tenants making 80% or less of their area’s median income.
  • Tenants will have to document the economic toll the pandemic has taken on their finances.
  • Money paid out will go directly to landlords, and will cover up to half a month’s rent, with a maximum of $1,000 per month and $3,000 over the life of the program.

Based on an estimate from the city housing department, the $2.2 million could help several hundred families.

With massive gains in unemployment and reportedly one-third of renters unable to pay rent in April, there could be intense demand for the help, as there was for prepaid debit cards the city distributed earlier this month.

The fund is modeled after a similar one the city set up last year to assist tenants who saw rent hikes before a statewide rent control law took effect.

Martínez’ staff told us the initial $2.2 million came from her office, Wesson’s office and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office.

OTHER TENANT PROTECTION MEASURES FAIL

The council considered a number of other items related to rental housing on Wednesday.

Motions introduced by councilmembers Mike Bonin and David Ryu, designed to protect vulnerable tenants, sparked a contentious back-and-forth with other councilmembers and city staff. One motion would have strengthened eviction protections, including prohibiting serving notices and utility shutoffs.

Councilmember Mike Bonin called the motions an effort to halt “a tidal wave of eviction proceedings”, but other councilmembers argued the motions went beyond the city’s legal authority. So did Chief Assistant City Attorney David Michaelson, who repeatedly told the council he was calling “balls and strikes” and that the legislation would not survive a legal challenge.

That motion failed in a 7 to 6 vote, the L.A. Times reported.

A second motion introduced by Bonin and Ryu would have sought to freeze rents across the city. The Times reported that the council rejected that effort, but did extend a freeze on rent hikes in the city’s rent stabilized housing.

This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2020 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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