Thousands of California tenants face eviction after the nation’s largest multi-billion-dollar rent relief program expired on Thursday, giving landlords freedom to dislodge their occupants.
Over the past 15 months, California covered approximately $4 billion in financial aid for over 340,000 renter households who could not pay rent due to COVID-19. The state’s public data dashboard calculated each home received an average of $11,000. But as of June 30, those households are on their own.
“California ran the largest and most successful eviction protection and rent relief program in the country,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said. “340,000 families weren’t evicted because of this, and the overwhelming majority of assistance went to very low-income households.”
“Homelessness prevented, public health protected, families stabilized,” he added.
Rodney Davis, a Sacramento resident facing possible eviction, told ABC 10 that with the program expired, she’s in a dilemma without having much money saved up.
“You’re talking about stress, it’s been very stressful,” Davis said. “My landlord can still give me an eviction notice.”
While Newsom claims the program saved over 700,000 Californians from experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, CalMatters’ reported data showed the state rejected more than 135,000 applications that received little to no explanation for the denial. The number reportedly increased recently as the program’s expiration date approached.
California faces at least two lawsuits, CalMatters reports, from tenants who argue they were denied funding despite qualifying for the program and did not receive the original amount promised to cover the rent.
“Tenants are facing eviction even as their landlords are given these giant checks and tenants who are eligible for assistance are being denied with these cryptic notices that don’t tell them why,” Madeline Howard, a senior staff attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty, one of the groups suing the state over the program, told CalMatters. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Geoffrey Ross, the deputy director handling the program, told CalMatters that about half of the applicants were denied due to ineligibility for either making too much money, living in an area not covered by the state program, or were outside the time frame. He also said the program rejected some applicants because they were unable to prove their tenancy or the impact of the pandemic on their ability to pay rent.
The other half denied either left their applications incomplete or inactive, and an unknown number were fraudulently submitted, CalMatters reports. Ross said the program still has 13,000 applications processing and expects them to clear by August.
Sarah Treuhaft, vice president of research at PolicyLink, a nonprofit reviewing the state’s rent relief program, said during a press conference before the program’s expiration date that it’s highly unlikely the state would get through all the applications by June 30.
“This means they are likely to be evicted, and they might eventually get rental assistance,” Treuhaft said.
Sulima Navarrete, of Richmond, applied for rent relief in October after her husband lost his job during the pandemic doing construction work. She told KQED she applied for rent relief in October after her husband lost his construction job. She said while her application is still under review, their landlord already gave them an eviction notice.
“It’s frustrating because it’s not something we asked for,” Navarrete told KQED. “It’s something the pandemic brought.”
But Debra Carlton, chief lobbyist for the California Apartment Association, told CalMatters they asked their members not to take tenants to court with pending applications.
Yet some tenants in Los Angeles County praised the program for helping them maintain shelter during the state’s response to COVID.
“This program was truly a blessing,” Alisha said in a statement. “The program helped keep food in my refrigerator, gas in my car.”
Another tenant called the program “extremely helpful.”
“I’ve had personal difficulties throughout, and I’m blessed to have received this assistance,” Adam said in a statement. “It has helped me to keep from being put in a homeless shelter.”
Department of Housing and Community Development Director Gustavo Velasquez said 86% of supported households make 50% or below area median income.
Lawmakers extended the program three times since its inception, and partnered with 144 community-based organizations that worked with landlords, legal aid groups, local cities, counties, and the U.S. Treasury. The program was one of four laws California passed to protects tenants since September 2020.