Gov. Newsom’s revised budget could lift the financial burden rental housing providers have carried during the pandemic.
By Christine Kevane Lamarca, Special to CalMatters
Christine Kevane LaMarca, is president of the California Rental Housing Association, firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been a hard year in the Golden State. Californians continue to mourn the loss of loved ones and struggle with unemployment, and some fear losing their businesses. But in recent weeks, with the increased rate of vaccinations and the decreased number of COVID-19 cases, recovery appears to be on the horizon.
If coronavirus cases continue to decrease, Gov. Gavin Newsom has said that our economy will fully open on June 15. Two weeks later, the statewide moratorium on evictions is set to expire. With signs that California is in recovery, there should be no need to extend it.
Some renters fear that the end of the moratorium means they will be faced with eviction. But housing providers are not champions of evictions. Rather, we are in the business of providing people with safe housing. At the moment, legislators aren’t talking about what’s next, so it’s up to us collectively to call on them to provide financial security for renters and housing providers alike.
In January, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 91, extending the 2020 COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act for five additional months. It provided a framework for the distribution of $2.6 billion in federal money for rent relief. It was intended to help renters pay past-due rent, and in some cases, utility bills, both past due and future payments.
Although applications have been accepted since March 15, the program has been slow to roll out. Housing providers have experienced problems when applying for reimbursement. There are numerous news reports of applicants who have faced difficulties applying for the program, while others have submitted their paperwork but have no idea when they might receive the 80% of the back rent they are seeking. Under the program, rental housing providers must agree to forgive 20% of the back rent owed. For those who may own only a unit or two or a single-family home, this has had a detrimental financial impact. They stand to lose thousands of dollars, which can make a huge difference for those on the financial brink.
We commend Newsom for understanding the serious financial stress so many of us have experienced, wondering how we can pay our mortgage or utility bills or even our property taxes without rental income. In his May revised 2020-21 budget plan, the governor announced his intention to pay rental housing providers 100% of unpaid rents, and many utility bills may also be covered.
With his announcement, more renters and housing providers will undoubtedly seek money from the relief program. But we need to make sure that applications are processed quickly, so that providers who have been carrying this financial burden for the past year get relief before it’s too late.
We also need to call on legislators to make funds not allocated to help current renters available to housing providers who had a renter move out owing back rent due to the impact of the coronavirus. If those funds are made available to owners, debt can then be forgiven for the renter.
With the welcome news of the governor’s revised budget plan, we urge our state leaders to end the eviction moratorium and work to ensure that programs designed to help renters and housing providers function the way they were meant to do.