LA councilman introduces motion to speed up rental assistance payment process

Councilman Kevin de Leon has introduced a motion aimed at speeding up the timeline for landlords to receive back rent for tenants who couldn't pay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that at the
current pace, the city's rental assistance program won't complete payments for 18 months.

De Leon, speaking before the City Council meeting Friday morning, said the rent relief program received more than 113,000 applications and the city has about $235 million to distribute, with another $260 million expected. However, the city has only paid out about $35 million, he said.

"The problem we face is not a problem of funding ... Rather, our problem is a lack of urgency and creativity and commitment to rise to the challenge of this unprecedented crisis,'' de Leon said.

His motion calls on the Los Angeles Housing + Community Investment Department to report on what resources it needs to process and pay all outstanding applications by Oct. 1. Los Angeles County's eviction moratorium is set to expire on Sept. 30, but the city's is tied to its declaration of local emergency.

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Assemblyman Miguel Santiago joined de Leon in urging that the rental assistance payment process be improved. 

"The bureaucratic pipeline is clogged, and we need to unclog it and let the dollars flow to the people who need it the most because plain and simple, housing is a human right and we've got the dollars to keep people in their apartments,'' the state lawmaker said.

"At this pace, when you take a look at it, 80 weeks, (a) simple Google search will tell you that you could walk around the Earth one-and-a-half times before the dollars will be released at the pace we're doing. So we need to actually kick this into high gear,'' he said.

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The motion would also instruct HCID to submit weekly progress reports to the City Council on the status of application payments, and to reopen the application period with people able to be put on a waitlist. The department would also be instructed to develop a multi-lingual outreach campaign to reach people who didn't submit applications because of language barriers or a lack of access to the Internet.

In de Leon's district -- which includes parts of downtown Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Glassell Park and El Sereno – 8,500 people have submitted applications for rental assistance, but only $2 million has been paid, about enough for 182 applications with an average
payment of $11,000 each, he said.

"This is absolutely unacceptable to Angelenos every day facing the threat of eviction. We can't afford to take this business-as-usual approach to one of the biggest crises that our city has ever met,'' he said. 

The city's rental assistance funding is for people who live in Los Angeles who have been impacted by the pandemic and/or have been unemployed for 90 or more days. They also must have a combined household income at or below 50% of the area median income, which is $39,450 per year for a single-person household. But priority will be given to renters at or below 30% of the area median income, which is $23,700 per year for a single-person household.