By Mark Hedin/Ethnic Media Services
SINCE the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, billions of dollars have been made available in the U.S. to help people pay their rent.
But, now that “eviction moratorium” policies enacted by federal, state, and local governments are set to expire, there’s worry that a “tsunami” of evictions is coming.
“All roads are still pointing to there being a surge in evictions,” said Manny Ruiz, policy analyst with the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs.
He was speaking at a recent press briefing organized by the Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs (OIA), in conjunction with other county agencies, community organizations and Ethnic Media Services to help ensure that people know there’s financial and legal help available to avoid being evicted. The conference was co-hosted by Peyman Malaz, LA Center Director of the Pars Equity Center.
“Immigrants in particular were impacted by the pandemic,” OIA Executive Director Rigo Reyes said. “It’s a challenge to get through and recover from the devastation.”
But the assistance programs, he said, are available to L.A. County residents regardless of citizenship or immigration status.
The county’s “Stay Housed LA” program, Ruiz said, offers renters free legal representation and up to three months’ rent assistance or $7,500 for a variety of needs. Whether they’re in a dispute with their landlord, facing eviction, or can’t afford their rent or other expenses, such as utilities, relocation costs, and more, this help comes with few restrictions.
“Stay Housed LA” help can be accessed at www.stayhousedla.org, or by phone at (888) 694-0040.
People who have questions about the program or need help with its intake forms can call the Department of Consumer and Business affairs at (833) 223-7368 or address email to: [email protected].
Then there’s the “Housing Is Key” program, which applies state-wide and is available to both renters and landlords.
In describing this program, Jessica Hayes, of the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, was quick to emphasize that the funds it provides don’t count as income for tax purposes, or affect eligibility for CalFresh, WIC and other aid programs. “Immigration status is not a question we ask—anybody can apply,” she said.
For applicants who are interested in those other aid programs, she said, “there are opportunities to request a referral for additional services.” Applicants’ personal information will not be shared.
Housing Is Key funds are available to people in a wide range of circumstances, she said. For example, where there are multiple people on the lease, or the tenant is on a sub-lease, or where tenants have already vacated their home but still owe back rent.
“We encourage tenants to ask their landlord to participate because it speeds up our process a lot,” she said, but in cases where the landlord does not apply to the program directly, funds can be sent to the tenants to make rent payments themselves.
Eligibility is based on renter/tenant household need, and priority is given based on eviction vulnerability, she added.
Applications can be made on the web at www.housingiskey.com, or by phone at (833) 430-2122. On the website, there is also a map of the state that allows people to search by address for other assistance programs that may be available in their area.
There is also a network of local partner organizations that can be reached at (833) 687-0967, who can help would-be applicants overcome language or disability barriers, provide information on what documents are needed, technical assistance and more, over the phone, or via in-office or even in-home visits.
The program has added staff to process tens of thousands of pending applications, she said, but an additional benefit of applying is that it provides added protection against eviction while the application is being processed.
People who’ve applied for Housing Is Key support are protected from evictions at least while their applications are under review, whatever the ultimate decision is.
“The law keeps changing every time it’s extended,” Cindy Shin, of the local Legal Aid Foundation chapter, said of the eviction moratoria. But for now, they’re scheduled to end on Sept. 30 of this year.
And if you do not pay at least 25% of your rent debt by the end of September 2021, the landlord CAN proceed with the eviction for non-payment of rent.
“There’s a lot of different rules that govern how this is done and when it’s permitted,” Shin said.
But, she warned, “Eviction lawsuits take place really quickly. If you fail to file an answer to this lawsuit within five days, you automatically lose, even if you had a good case.”
“So, as soon as you’re served with a notice, contact our services through the Stay Housed LA website.”
“We can help you file an answer with the court and even provide you with full-scope representation in your unlawful detainer (eviction) action.”