The Sacramento agency in charge of distributing emergency rental assistance has paid out approximately $11.5 million in relief money so far, but has tens of millions of dollars still available for low-income tenants who were affected by COVID-19 and fell behind on rent.
La Shelle Dozier, executive director of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, or SHRA, said her agency has received about 13,000 applications for the Sacramento Emergency Rental Assistance program. But even if all of them are approved, SHRA would still have about half its $99.8 million in assistance leftover.
SHRA administers rent relief funds for the city and county of Sacramento.
“It’s very important that we get the word out and people understand that these funds are available,” Dozier told CapRadio on Thursday, referring to SHRA’s rent relief money. “The assistance is there to help them as a result of any loss of income they experience due to COVID.”
How Do I Apply?
The agency also produced fliers describing the rental assistance program in Spanish, Hmong, Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese.
Who Is Eligible?
Sacramento County renters should apply if they are unemployed, have had a reduction in household income or incurred significant costs, or have experienced financial hardship because of the pandemic. Applicants must demonstrate a risk of being unhoused or housing instability, according to the agency, which determines the total assistance amount based on a household’s documented need.
Under Sacramento’s program, landlords are paid 80% of a tenant’s back rent from April last year through the end of March, if both parties apply for the assistance and are approved. The landlord is then required to forgive the remaining unpaid rent.
If a landlord does not participate, tenants who apply for the funds will be offered 25% of what they owe, which is the amount renters must pay to maintain eviction protection during the pandemic. Additionally, landlords can apply on behalf of their tenants.
The relief funds can apply to both past-due rent and utility bills.
SHRA administered a rental assistance program last fall. Renters who applied last year can also apply for this second phase of the program, or SERA2, as the agency calls it. The second phase opened up in late February. Duplicate applications are not accepted.
The agency plans to accept applications as long as funds remain. The end of the program is not tied to separate eviction protections or the end of the state’s eviction moratorium June 30.
Dozier said SHRA is committed to helping renters with their applications. She added that the agency is reaching out to residents in zip codes disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and working with non-English speaking groups across the county.
“We have a team of bilingual staff available by phone, by email, by appointment to assist with completing the application and helping upload those necessary documents,” she added.
Dozier added that SHRA expects to receive another $55 million in rental assistance funds through the federal COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year. She said applications will be accepted for rental assistance until the agency’s funds run out.
Though SHRA has a lot of money remaining, the agency has distributed a larger share of funds than the state’s rental assistance program, which housing advocates criticized this week for its slow distribution.
‘We’re At A Loss’
California’s eviction moratorium expires June 30, a date that has thousands of renters worried they’ll be removed from their homes. Housing advocates and some lawmakers are pushing to extend the ban, citing the length of time it takes to distribute rental assistance and the barriers some encounter when they apply.
A report by a coalition of tenant advocates found that California housing officials had distributed less than 5% of the money available from the state and requested by renters, or just $20 million of the $473 million requested so far. The report, Preventing an Eviction Epidemic - Delivering Effective Emergency Covid-19 Rental Assistance in California, also found that renters often gave up on applications due to their length and complexity and because of language and technology barriers.
Even when tenants do everything right on the application, they can still find themselves stuck, according to renters and housing advocates who spoke at a press conference this week.
After Pasadena tenant Jaylynn Bailey lost work during the pandemic, she applied for rental assistance through Los Angeles County. She said she was told it was approved, but the release of funds still depends on the landlord participating.
“We’re at a loss,” Bailey said. “We don’t know where we are in the system. We don’t know if our landlord has outright rejected the program. There’s just been no communication.”
Debra Carlton, a spokesperson for the California Apartment Association, rejected the idea that the landlords her organization represents are standing in the way.
“Rental property owners are desperate for dollars,” she said. “Some of them haven’t been paid in over a year.”
Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the state’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, said the initial distribution of the state’s rental assistance has been slow because the state wants to prevent fraud and the duplication of benefits.
“We are ramping things up,” Heimerich said. “$20 million has been paid so far. We have another $122.6 million that is pending approval.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently proposed to cover 100% of back rent owed by low-income renters. Tenants groups say that could spur more landlords to participate.
The governor and Legislature must negotiate any change to the rent relief program.
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