Rent relief and stable housing efforts have been a top priority for Governor Newsom’s administration, as demonstrated by the recent signing of AB 832, which increases cash assistance and extends the eviction moratorium for California tenants. Part of the $5.2 billion rent relief program helps qualifying low-income renters and small landlords cover current dues, payments for back rent, and utility debts. While this program is one of the most comprehensive relief packages in the country, it currently faces significant access and distribution challenges.
The money is there: what’s the issue?
The relief package’s main obstacle isn’t a lack of resources— California has all the funds and is ready to distribute them to people who need help covering current and past housing expenses. The primary issue is overcoming barriers to access. CALMatters reports that significant roadblocks include: lack of access to digital technologies, acquiring proof of COVID-related loss of income, confusion around the application process, and limited language options outside of English and Spanish. Additionally, once applications are completed, the disbursement of money is slow, and individuals are left waiting long periods to receive the funds.
The good news is that California has recently simplified the application process. Additionally, the new legislation now covers 100 percent of past and future rent payments. The previous agreement, which only provided 80 percent coverage, left many landlords reluctant to participate as they would lose out on the other 20 percent. Unfortunately, AB 832 only extends the eviction moratorium until September 30, 2021, making this an extremely urgent matter to avoid a flood of evictions starting in October 2021.
What role can philanthropy play?
Nonprofits have taken the lead in assisting individuals with the rent relief process by providing education on the program and offering hands-on support to those completing the application. The State has partnered with local organizations to build awareness about the availability of the funding and help expedite the application process. Still, there is a definite need for more assistance.
There are several important actions funders can take to improve the rent relief process. Philanthropy can support its nonprofit partnerships by providing much-needed fiscal support, facilitating convenings between stakeholders, and building awareness around the available funds. Foremost, funding is vital for nonprofits to expand their infrastructure and provide additional staffing for application workshops, create online application portals, and educate communities about the process and its benefits. By activating their existing networks, funders can also advocate for nonprofits to receive support for the comprehensive services they are providing as the sector continues to navigate the pandemic. Lastly, funders can contribute their own capacity to support the on-the-ground efforts to educate communities on the available funds and help individuals complete the application process. These actions will build a more stable nonprofit infrastructure and help create a more efficient and effective distribution of these much-needed funds.
Although the State is providing all the necessary funding for rent relief, philanthropy still has a critical role to play. Without the proper distribution of this relief money and the assistance of well-funded nonprofits and local support organizations, renters and landlords will continue to face financial stress and a possible wave of evictions after September 30, 2021. Philanthropy can partner with organizations aiding in the application process and support rent relief programs to avoid more evictions, leading to more people experiencing housing insecurity this fall and winter.