RENTERS - Back in February I got a call from a friend who’s a renter. He said that in November 2022 he’d applied for assistance from the Council District 13 Covid-19 Rental Aid Program and that he was still waiting to see if his application would be approved. He also let me know about a letter submitted to the LA City Council by another renter who’d applied to the program. The renter complained that he’d submitted an application in 2022, and that even though it had initially been approved it was later revoked. Not long after, I got in touch with a third renter who had also applied and was still waiting to get an answer.
It's no secret that LA renters have been struggling for years, and that the pandemic made things even worse. Some renters got help from a previous program created by the City of LA, but that money only went so far. At the end of September, then CD 13 Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell put forward a motion to use State funding for an assistance program for eligible renters in Council District 13. The motion was adopted by the City Council on November 8 and signed by Mayor Garcetti on November 16. A contract between the Los Angeles Housing Department and the Southern California Housing Rights Center was executed on January 5. It states that:
Contractor shall administer the Council District 13 Covid-19 Rental Aid Program ("Program"), including determination of tenant eligibility for rental assistance under the Program and issuance of rental aid funds. This contract is for 12 months and a total amount of $4,562,061 ($4,022,921 for rental aid subsidies and $539,140 for Contractor's fees and costs for administering the Program).
So supposedly over $4 million dollars has been set aside to help tenants who are behind on their rent. Since the people I’d been in touch with hadn’t received any funds yet, in February I submitted a Public Records Act request to the LA Housing Department (LAHD) to find out how much money had been disbursed. LAHD responded on February 15 saying that 1,151 tenant applications had been received and 344 payments had been issued, totaling $1,720,000.
It was good to know that some payments had been made, but as of February 15 about two thirds of the people who had submitted applications were still waiting. And what’s worse, the people I was in touch with were having a hard time getting consistent information, or any information. It seems really odd that the tenant who wrote to the City Council had his application approved, but then somehow the approval was revoked. He told me that he contacted the CD 13 office, now under Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez, and a staff member told him they had no control over the program and that he needed to contact Bresee, a local non-profit. My friend also spoke to a CD 13 staffer who told him, incorrectly, that the program was no longer active. My friend has repeatedly called the contact number for the program, but all he gets is a statement saying that final eligibility is under review.
This is not acceptable. The City of LA’s COVID tenant protections have expired. People who are still behind on their rent are facing eviction. They need help. It doesn’t matter if Mitch O’Farrell is gone. The full City Council approved the use of $4 million in public funding to create the CD 13 Covid-19 Rental Aid Program. As of February 15, less than half of that money had been disbursed and there are still tenants in need. Councilmember Soto-Martinez’ staff can’t just tell constituents that CD 13 has no control. If tenants are still waiting for money months after they submitted an application, and if they can’t even get a status update, CD 13 needs to find out why. If the non-profits who are handling the money aren’t doing a good job, CD 13 needs to step in and insist on changes.
If Councilmember Soto-Martinez thinks that he’s not responsible for anything that occurred in CD 13 before he took the oath of office, he needs to think again. Constituents need help. They’re not getting it. Passing the buck is not acceptable.
(Casey Maddren is a CityWatch contributor.)