COVID rent relief program opens. Here’s how it works – Daily News

on Mar16
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After months of lingering unemployment and missed rent payments, federal relief is on the way for struggling landlords and tenants.

A complex hybrid of state and local programs designed to distribute $2.6 billion in federal aid to ailing California landlords and low-income renters begAn accepting applications Monday.

The program is kicking into gear as fallout from government-mandated business closings continues to hit the state, with low-income workers suffering the heaviest job losses. Even with eviction moratoriums extended during the coronavirus pandemic, back rent will need to be paid.

Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, said state and local officials will have to be especially vigilant in providing clear information about their programs to ensure reaching the neediest.

“We’re excited this day has come,” Chiu said. “We’re hopeful that the monies will go out quickly and efficiently.” Chiu is the chairman of the housing and community development committee and author of the state’s eviction moratorium.

The federal funds come from a relief package passed by Congress in December and are restricted to poor and moderate-income renters. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan package signed by President Joe Biden last Thursday is expected to bring an additional $2.2 billion in rental assistance to California in the coming months.

The state gave large cities and counties three options to distribute the aid: use a state program, have a hybrid of state and local distribution sources, or go it alone.

Estimates for the amount of back rent owed in California through the end of 2020 have ranged from $400 million to $4 billion. The exact figures have been elusive, and public and private aid programs have cut into the debts. Landlords, renter advocates and lawmakers agree spikes in job losses in the service industry and other areas have led to widespread stress on renters in the nation’s most expensive housing market.

The program is open to tenants and landlords impacted by the pandemic. Those who qualify are eligible to receive 80% of unpaid rent from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021. Landlords and tenants must both provide documentation to receive payments; landlords accepting the funds agree to waive collection of the remaining unpaid debt. Tenants may also apply for lesser aid if their landlord refuses to apply for relief.

The California Apartment Association is urging its members to participate in the program, saying a partial payment is better than trying to collect an entire debt through civil lawsuits.

Landlords and tenants will be able to apply online Monday to start the process, regardless of whether an individual county or city has established its own program. The money is intended to go directly to landlords.

Cities and counties with individual programs may set different rules for reimbursement and eligibility than relief funds administered by the state. San Jose and Santa Clara County elected leaders are expected to sign off this month on their plan for county residents. Programs in Alameda County and San Francisco are likely to come even later.

The state’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency expects the program to cost between $50 million and $60 million to administer. Nonprofit organizations and social service agencies will conduct outreach and education, and help funnel landlords and tenants into the program.  A multilingual, toll-free number, (833) 430-2122, and a website with information about eligibility and applications have already been established. Residents will not be asked citizenship questions.

The goal is to have residents and property owners able to access relief through several paths. “The key for all of us is that there really is no wrong door,” said Geoff Ross, a deputy director at the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

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