Rent Relief in California: Understanding the State’s Program and How You Can Apply

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Rent relief sign and almost empty jar with money.

Gustavo F. Velasquez & Tunua Thrash-Ntuk | Special to California Black Media Partners

Due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, paying rent has become a real struggle for millions of Californians. But help is available to renters and landlords through the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program.

Based on income level, qualified applicants can receive assistance with unpaid rent and utilities and with future payments.

Funding comes from the $2.6 billion in federal emergency rental assistance provided to support both state and local rent relief programs in California. The CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program isn’t the sole resource for rent relief for California renters and landlords; many cities and counties are either currently administering their own rent relief programs – or launching one soon.

Cities and counties with populations greater than 200,000 are employing one of three rent relief options: option A) the state-administered CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program; option B) a local city- or county-administered program using the same eligibility criteria as option A; and option C) a local city-or county-administered program using different eligibility criteria, in some cases, in combination with a portion administered by the state.

While the programs vary, the goals are the same: Keep people housed and provide quick assistance to those at the highest risk of eviction. To simplify access to rent relief programs in California, the state launched HousingIsKey.com. The website directs renters and landlords to the programs that they may qualify for, based on where they live. After applicants provide the address of their rental property (landlords) or their residence (renters), they are sent to a website where they can review eligibility criteria and complete an application. Applicants can also call the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Call Center (833-430-2122) to find out which program to apply for and get help in a variety of languages.

Who’s eligible for the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Program

Renters who have suffered financial hardship because of COVID-19 and are behind on rent or utilities (or need help paying upcoming bills) are eligible to apply. They must have an Area Median Income (AMI) below 80% for the county they live in (this amount is calculated for the applicant during the application process). Either a renter or a landlord can initiate an application, online or through the call center, and both are encouraged to participate to maximize the amount of assistance received. The state’s program is prioritizing applications from households at the highest risk of eviction – those under 50% of the Area Median Income.

Landlords participating in the program receive 80% of an eligible tenant’s unpaid rent accrued between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, if they agree to waive the remaining 20% of unpaid rent. Renters whose landlords choose not to participate in the program can apply directly, and receive 25% of unpaid rent accrued between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, which can help

protect them from eviction under SB 91 if they pay that 25% directly to their landlords. Renters can also apply to receive financial assistance with future rent. They may also qualify for assistance with unpaid or future utility payments.

Applicant information is kept private. Renter’s information will not be shared with the landlord, and vice versa. Applicants may be eligible to participate in the program regardless of immigration status and proof of citizenship is not required. Rent relief assistance does not count as earned income and will not interfere with eligibility for any other state benefit assistance programs such as CalFresh.

The CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program is supported through a $3 million public education and outreach campaign, which includes radio, digital media, out-of-home, and print advertising. Thousands of statewide community-based organizations, trade and industry groups and businesses have been enlisted to assist with outreach to communities most in need. The state has also allocated $24 million to support on-the-ground organizations to work directly with applicants in communities throughout the state. To make an appointment with a local organization, applicants are encouraged to call 833-687-0967.

The Authors

Gustavo F. Velasquez is Director, California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), and Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, executive director at the Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LA LISC)

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