Los Angeles Launches $103 Million Program To Offer Relief To Renters

Jul 15, 2020

One in five people in Los Angeles County is out of work, according to California's latest unemployment numbers. And that means a lot of people can't pay the rent.

This week, the city of Los Angeles rolled out its Emergency Renters Assistance Program. It will provide a total of $103 million in assistance to LA renters in the form of temporary subsidies of up to $2,000 per household.

In order to qualify, renters of multifamily units must show how COVID-19 has affected them financially and earn less than 80% of the area median income — for example, $83,500 for a family of 4.

Nury Martinez, president of the Los Angeles City Council, helped devise the program. During an interview with All Things Considered, she notes that more than 100,000 people registered on Monday, the first day applications were accepted.

But after the application period closes on Friday, only 50,000 families will be randomly selected to receive subsidies.

"That just goes to tell you the huge need that currently exists," Martinez says.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

This [program] is for people who make 80% of the median income in the area or less. What about middle- or working-class people who don't meet that income qualification but are facing eviction right now?

I want to make sure that your listeners understand that we need more help than this [program]. ... We'll be able to help randomly selected families, about 50,000 of them by the time this program is over. That's not nearly enough to meet demand and the need that currently exists. Housing experts are telling us that we are going to see an evictions tsunami after this pandemic is over, and I agree. And this is why we are calling on the federal government to help pass the HEROES Act [coronavirus relief bill] that's currently sitting in the Senate.

LA was already facing a housing crisis and a homelessness crisis before the pandemic hit. Does the city have any plans to address these much larger issues that are already driving people out of their homes?

We're continuing to build supportive housing for our unsheltered community members ... continuing to push forward some of these affordable housing projects that are still in the pipeline.

The housing crisis is a result of people simply not being able to make enough to make ends meet. And the fact that we have not been able to keep up with the demand [for housing] in the city of Los Angeles has created this huge, huge crisis.

So I think this adds an additional burden — and a scary one, because they won't be able to keep their homes for much longer — if we do not figure out how to get more federal assistance to keep people housed, to ask the federal government to pass the next round of stimulus help to be able to help as many people as possible.

You know, in the midst of this pandemic, the federal government has given billions of dollars to corporations that have already gotten billions of dollars of unnecessary tax breaks. I cannot believe that we cannot find a way to help poor people in this country stay housed.

Listen to the full interview at the audio link above.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

One in five people in Los Angeles County is out of work, according to California's latest unemployment numbers. And that means a lot of people can't pay rent. Well, this week, the city of LA rolled out its Emergency Renters Relief Program. It offers $100 million in assistance to LA renters. And when the application closes, 50,000 families will be randomly selected to get that help. Well, LA City Council President Nury Martinez helped devise this program, and she is here with us now.

Welcome.

NURY MARTINEZ: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So tell us who is eligible for this program.

MARTINEZ: Well, the eligibility - first of all, anyone who lives in the city of Los Angeles and currently lives in a multi-family unit - an apartment building or a duplex - qualifies for this program. Part of the qualifications also include showing the financial impact that COVID-19 has had on you and earning less than 80% of the area median income are some of the prerequisites.

CHANG: OK, got it. But just to be clear, this is for people who make 80% of the median income in the area or less than that. Well, let me ask you, what about middle- or working-class people who don't meet that income qualification but are facing eviction right now?

MARTINEZ: Well, our Emergency Renters Relief Program is the largest program in the country. And so it just goes to show you that Los Angeles is leading in this area. But I also want to, you know, make sure that your listeners understand that we need more help than this. Just based on the people that applied the first day on Monday when this program went live, over 100,000 people registered on the very first day.

CHANG: Wow. Yeah.

MARTINEZ: And so that just goes to tell you the huge need that currently exists. You know, we'll be able to help, you know, randomly selected families - about 50,000 of them - by the time this program is over. That's not nearly enough to meet the demand and the need that currently exists. You know, experts - housing experts are telling us that we are going to see an eviction tsunami after this pandemic is over, and I agree.

CHANG: I mean, LA was already facing a housing crisis and, frankly, a homelessness crisis before the pandemic hit. This money from the Renters Relief Program - you know, it's a stopgap to keep some people in their homes, but does the city have any plans to address these much larger issues that are already driving people out of their homes, even before the latest economic crisis?

MARTINEZ: We're continuing to build, you know, supportive housing for our unsheltered community members that find themselves living on the street every single day, continuing to push forward some of these affordable housing projects that are still on the pipeline. The housing crisis is a result of people simply not being able to make enough to make ends meet. And the fact that we have not been able to keep up with the demand in the city of Los Angeles has created this huge, huge crisis. So I think this adds an additional burden and a scary one because they won't be able to keep their homes for much longer if we do not figure out how to get more federal assistance to keep people housed, to ask the federal government to pass the next round of stimulus help to be able to help as many people as possible. You know, in the midst of this pandemic, the federal government has given billions of dollars to corporations that had already gotten billions of dollars of unnecessary tax breaks. I cannot believe that we cannot find a way to help poor people in this country stay housed.

CHANG: LA City Council President Nury Martinez, thank you very much for joining us today.

MARTINEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.