SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CBS13 / AP) – With a statewide moratorium on evictions ending Friday, California officials are rushing to ensure tenants with unpaid rent know they can still stay in their homes after that date – but only if they have asked for help from the state.
California has been using billions of federal dollars to pay off up to 18 months of rent for most people since April 2020, the first full month of the state’s stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus. To qualify, people must earn 80% or less of their region’s median income and must have been affected by the pandemic – an indescribable requirement that almost anyone can meet.
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Until Thursday of this week, state law automatically prohibits landlords from evicting people for unpaid rent. But from Friday, tenants with unpaid rent will only be able to be protected from evictions if they have asked for help.
On Monday, more than 309,000 households asked for help, asking for nearly $ 3 billion. The state has disbursed nearly $ 650 million to around 55,000 households so far and has approved another $ 950 million in aid that is in the process of being disbursed.
This is important, because it means California has allocated at least 65% of its initial allocation of $ 1.5 billion from the federal government. If they hadn’t, the federal government could have gotten some of that money back and California probably wouldn’t have any left.
Now, however, California is expected to get even more money – up to $ 1.8 billion, state officials said – in a second round of funding, ensuring the state will have enough funding. money to keep paying people’s unpaid rents.
The federal moratorium on evictions ended last month. Federal officials last week said state and local governments allocated more than 16.5% of the money available for rent assistance in August, up from 11.1% in July.
In California, there is no deadline for requesting money. The state will pay the rent that tenants owe and they will even preemptively pay people’s rent for the next three months. If the tenants still can’t pay after that, the state will pay another three months after that. But tenants can only receive 18 months of help, according to federal rules.
Russ Heimerich, spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Community Development, said the state would continue to pay people’s rent “as long as we have the money to do so.”
California has a total of $ 5.2 billion to pay for all of this, with the money being split between state and local governments.
“Applying for rent assistance is the best way to protect yourself against eviction,” Lourdes Castro RamÃrez, secretary of the Agency for Affairs, Consumer Services and Housing, told a press conference on Monday.
But tenant advocates fear that many tenants are unaware of the protections. Tina Rosales, a lawyer and policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said some tenants are unaware they can stop an eviction process by simply filling out a request for assistance and many don’t have to. ‘lawyers to help them. She is afraid that some will be frightened once the moratorium is over and âself-evictâ.
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âYes, (state law) has protections, but those protections rely heavily on a legal system that is not tenant friendly at all,â she said.
The state legislature included $ 40 million in this year’s budget to pay lawyers to help tenants and landlords avoid evictions and foreclosures, with a commitment to spend an additional $ 40 million over the years. next two years.
Some state lawmakers, including Congressman David Chiu, had pushed to extend the moratorium on state evictions beyond Thursday’s deadline. But Chiu said there was “no consensus on Capitol Hill” to do so.
Debra Carlton, executive vice president of the California Apartment Association, said the eviction moratorium has hurt small landlords, many of whom haven’t received rent checks in over a year and have struggled to pay their taxes and insurance bills.
“We urge the state, of course, to distribute the funds more quickly, which it appears to be doing,” she said.
Heimerich said the government paid for statewide radio and television ads to inform tenants about the rent assistance program. The state has also streamlined the application process, making it easier for tenants to apply. After a slow start, Heimerich said California only follows Texas in the amount of aid paid to date.
That could change soon, as Heimerich has said he expects the state to process $ 100 million in rent assistance a week soon.
âWe certainly don’t want people to panic because there are always protections,â Heimerich said. “What we want people to know is that they need to take more positive and positive steps and actually ask for help in order to be protected.”
Tenants gathered in Davis on Friday to demand that California extend the moratorium on evictions again, but landlords who have seen the program extended three times are prepared to pay rent they say has been owed for months.
“It’s a crisis,” said Tahnee Sweeney, activist for the Cancel The Rents movement.
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