STATEWIDE – Community-based tenant organizations and the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) settled a lawsuit, May 2023, that will help 100,000 previously denied households appeal for COVID-19 rent relief.
People who still have pending applications should expect to receive a new series of communications. If the applications were denied, they will have 30 days to file an appeal to receive rental assistance.
COVID Emergency Rental Assistance
According to Public Counsel, one of the legal representatives in the lawsuit, California identified over $6 billion in state and federal funds for Emergency Rental Assistance during the pandemic. HCD was responsible for creating an application process, screening tenants for eligibility, and distributing the program funds.
Although the state provided a total of $4.5 billion in rent relief to 362,617 households, Public Counsel says the application process for the program was burdensome for many people.
“It required extensive paperwork and documentation, access to email and the ability to check it regularly, and the ability to navigate the system in English, even if it isn’t the tenant’s preferred language,” says a statement on the Public Counsel website.
The law firm says if they managed to apply, tenants still waited months for a response. They received a variety of vague responses, including approval for partial payments or a full denial of payment without adequate explanation.
Public Counsel says this resulted in 100,000 households waiting for a year or more for the chance to receive support.
Community-based tenant organizations Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), along with research and action institute PolicyLink filed a lawsuit, June 2022, against HCD.
The organizations say that HCD administered funding in an opaque way and disproportionately harmed tenants on the basis of race, color, and national origin.
In May 2023, an agreement was reached to fund up to $24 million to ACCE, SAJE and their affiliates to provide assistance with appeals.
According to Public Counsel, the settlement will provide new opportunities for those denied rental assistance to appeal. They say it also adds clarity to application denials.
“Because of this lawsuit, the State of California will improve its administration of a crucial pandemic relief program to comply with due process. As a result, low-income Californians will have a better shot at receiving the rental assistance they need to avoid eviction and stay housed,” says a statement on the Public Counsel website.
To read the full COVID-19 rent relief settlement visit https://publiccounsel.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/CA-Rent-Relief_Housing-is-Key_ERAP_Signed-Settlement.pdf