Court orders California to pause denying pandemic rent aid

BY: Jason Whigham
December 12, 2022


California’s Housing Is Key program receives $4.2 billion more rental assistance requests that the program’s funds, according to state statistics. This program assists tenants who owe rent back to retain their homes. (AP file photo/Michael Dwyer)

Aug 17, 2022 at 2:29 p.m.An Alameda County judge has ordered the state housing department to pause denying applications for pandemic rental assistance after tenant advocates filed a lawsuit alleging officials have unfairly withheld aid from struggling renters.

Advocates argue that tenants have not had enough time to appeal the denials of the $5.2 billion emergency rental assistance program. It also claims that it discriminates against Latino and Asian renters by only providing English information.

“Over the past few months, my work with hundreds of tenants has been interrupted by a denial without much to no explanation and fear about losing their homes,” Patricia Mendoza (an organizer at Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, one of the groups behind the suit) stated in a statement.

Frank Roesch, Alameda County Superior Court Judge, ruled that the California Department of Housing and Community Development should cease issuing rental assistance denials and suspend any denials issued within the last 30 days.

The pause will remain in effect until the court reviews the rental aid appeals process and makes a decision.

Advocates claim that this pause will impact approximately 100,000 California households with applications pending or denied aid. Many counties and cities also have rental assistance programs. However, many of these are no longer available.

The state housing department released a statement stating that it had assisted in keeping more than 340,000 households inside their homes during the pandemic. The state’s rental assistance dashboard shows that it has provided an average $11,690 per household and nearly $4 billion in total aid.

The agency said in the statement that they were disappointed by the court’s decision. They will continue to defend California’s COVID-19 Rent Relief Program.

To be eligible for the state program, renters must have suffered a financial loss as a result of the pandemic. The income they earn must not exceed 80% of the county’s median income.

Advocates and news reports claim that the program denied assistance to at most 135,000 households last month, which is roughly one-third of all applicants. As the state withdraws its protections for applicants, many renters now face being evicted.

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Census data shows that over 1.3 million Californians are behind in their rent.

Advocates argue that both eviction protections and rental relief are necessary to stop people becoming homeless. Rents are increasing rapidly in the state.

Madeline Howard, senior attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty stated in a statement that “we must keep people housing.” “That’s why i filed this lawsuit — the program was intended to prevent evictions but it falls woefully short,” Howard said.

The advocacy groups that supported the lawsuit are Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy. Policy Link and Keep LA Housed Coalition also support the lawsuit. They are represented at the Western Center on Law and Poverty and Legal Aid Foundation Los Angeles.


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