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Thousands of struggling L.A. residents could get rent relief under $100-million City Council proposal

Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Tens of thousands of renters facing pandemic-related economic struggles in Los Angeles could receive financial assistance under a plan set to be unveiled today from Council President Nury Martinez.

The $100 million in proposed rent relief is necessary to keep financially strapped Angelenos in their homes, Martinez said.

“You can see the desperation in people’s eyes about how they’re going to feed their families let alone how they’re going to pay their rent,” said Martinez, who represents eastern San Fernando Valley neighborhoods.

The economic devastation of the novel coronavirus shutdown has been felt across the region, with the unemployment rate in L.A. County topping 20%.

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Though the funding could assist more than 70,000 renters, that would still be just a fraction of the population struggling to pay rent, according to some estimates.

To qualify, tenants would have to prove that they earn 80% or less of the area’s median income and that they’ve faced economic or health effects due to the coronavirus, according to Martinez, who said details of the program are still being negotiated. A family of four, for instance, would need to make $90,100 or less to be eligible. The rent subsidy would go directly to landlords.

The city has been discussing a rental assistance program for those affected by the coronavirus since April. One proposal called for the city to cover up to half of tenants’ rent for up to three months with a maximum grant of $3,000 per household.

If $100 million were allocated according to that formula, 74,074 L.A. households could receive two months of subsidy if their rent was $1,350 per month, according to an estimate from the city’s Housing and Community Investment Department. That’s compared to 33,333 households receiving three months of subsidy if their rent was $2,000 a month.

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The proposal would siphon off a chunk of the $694 million the city is receiving as part of the federal government’s $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus program that passed in March. The money must be used to cover direct spending on coronavirus response or secondary economic effects from the shutdown, including impacts to businesses or renters.

It’s difficult to know how many Angelenos have fallen behind on rent payments. A report from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation estimated that nearly 1 million households in the L.A. metropolitan area, which has a substantial number of workers in the service sector and entertainment industries, are likely to have faced coronavirus-related income or job losses. Recent research from UCLA also found that tenants living in Los Angeles neighborhoods, including MacArthur Park, Pico-Union and Harvard Heights, are among the most vulnerable in the county to facing problems paying their rent due to the pandemic.

City leaders have already passed a moratorium on evictions for those who can’t pay due to the economic or health effects of the coronavirus. Under those regulations, affected tenants have one year following the expiration of the coronavirus state of emergency to repay any past due rent.

Landlords and low-income housing advocates have expressed concern over the anti-eviction rules. Landlords are worried about having to shoulder unpaid rents for a lengthy period and housing advocates are worried that the expiration of rent protections could trigger a wave of evictions. Rental assistance programs could alleviate both concerns.

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But some renter organizations, including the Los Angeles Tenants Union, have pushed for city, state and federal leaders to go further by cancelling rent and mortgage payments. They argue that limited budgets for rental assistance programs will necessarily leave out some who would qualify for relief. The groups have urged tenants to go on a “rent strike” and withhold their payments.

Times staff writer Dakota Smith contributed to this report.


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