Examining California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program

Already shouldering some of the worst housing affordability challenges in the nation, California renters living on low incomes were pummeled by the Covid-19 pandemic. While renters made tremendous sacrifices to keep current on rent, many fell behind. The statewide Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) — funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act — offered a pathway to clear these debts, preventing eviction and homelessness and making an equitable recovery possible. The program was in operation between March 15, 2021, and March 31, 2022.

In partnership with Housing NOW! and Western Center on Law & Poverty, the National Equity Atlas is assessing how well the program met its goal of covering 100 percent of rent debt for all renters living on low incomes who’ve experienced economic hardships during the pandemic. We provide regular statewide data updates; maintain a dashboard with county, city, and zip code data; and produce reports on the program’s performance. Our latest policy recommendations are listed below.

Statewide Data Update: August 16, 2022

Note: No new data has been provided by HCD since August 16; we have requested additional data on applicants who received funds but who were subsequently denied assistance and HCD is seeking to recapture the funds. Data on the basis for denials, appeal status, and denial notice dates became available for weekly tracking beginning July 13. The dataset for the week of July 18 included unexplained inconsistencies and was not reportable, and data was not provided for the weeks of July 25, August 1, or August 8 while HCD updated the data template to correct for these inconsistencies. See our latest analysis from July 22.

  • Thus far, 333,524 households have received rental assistance; another 1,013 have been approved, but they are still waiting for their payments to be processed.

  • There are 22,698 renters still waiting for their applications to be reviewed. Among them, 2,642 are awaiting initial review and 20,056 are awaiting review of their requests for additional assistance. Most remaining statewide eviction protections for ERAP applicants expired on June 30, leaving these applicants at imminent risk of eviction for rental debt the program could eventually cover.

  • The statewide program has denied rental assistance to 132,053 predominantly low-income households.* Of the households whose applications have been reviewed, 28 percent (132,053) have been denied — up from 21 percent on March 30. The vast majority of denied households (93 percent) have incomes low enough to qualify them for the program. 

  • The vast majority of applications (83 percent) were denied for one or both of two reasons: “non-responsiveness” and “inconsistent/unverifiable information.” Of those denied, 54 percent were denied for non-responsiveness and 28 percent were denied for inconsistent information. Tenant advocates cited numerous concerns about these reasons for denial in their lawsuit against the state for unfair denials. Seven percent were denied for requesting rent relief outside of the eligibility period (presumably including requests for rent relief for April through June 2022 prior to HCD’s abrupt decision to end the program and deny rental assistance after March 2022). Only a small share of denials were due to other eligibility issues, such as having incomes above the low-income threshold, not having unmet need, or not demonstrating Covid-related hardship. 

  • At least 48,735 applicants are affected by the pending lawsuit relating to unfair denials. On July 7, a judge ordered the state to stop denying tenants rental assistance and review its denial process. The lawsuit affects three groups: 1) the 41,643 applicants that were still awaiting review at the time of the lawsuit, whose applications now cannot be denied**; 2) the 715 households that were denied between June 7 and July 7, whose denials are now on hold and can be appealed***; and 3) the 6,377 households that were denied assistance and have pending appeals, whose appeals are now paused.

  • In total, 20,901 applicants (4 percent) appealed the decision on their application. Applicants have 30 days from when they receive an award notification or denial notice to appeal for three reasons: determination of ineligibility, amount awarded, and denial of assistance. 

  • In total, 8,759 denied applicants (7 percent) appealed their denial. Most denial appeals (6,211) are awaiting review. While the judge’s order is in effect, HCD may approve applications on appeal but these appeals are on hold otherwise. Of the denial appeals that have been reviewed, 80 percent (1,657 of 2,079) were not approved. 

  • Roughly one in three households were facing imminent eviction when they applied. At the time they submitted their application, 149,290 applicants reported receiving an eviction notice or being threatened with eviction by their landlord — an understatement of eviction risk since many renters receive eviction notices while awaiting payment.

For data at the county, city, and zip code level, explore our dashboard.

*This is lower than our previously reported number of denials from June 23 (157,881) because as of July 13, HCD revised the dataset to exclude denied applicants located in jurisdictions that are operating local rental assistance programs.

**This represents the number of applicants awaiting review as of July 13, but it should represent applicants awaiting review as of July 7, thus it is an underestimate. No data was provided for the week of July 4.

***This is a significantly lower number of households than previously reported on July 13 (2,429 households) due to errors in the data provided by HCD, which have now been corrected. This number is also based on HCD’s reported dates of denial, and it does not include additional tenants that received notice of denial after the date reported by HCD. 

Most Recent Analysis

Dashboard

Earlier Analyses

Policy Recommendations

Given the large number of denials and their high stakes, the concerns with the review process, and the high share of denial appeals that have been denied, HCD should go beyond what is required by the lawsuit and conduct a thorough review of all denied applications. The agency has touted its administration of the program and should seek to ensure that no tenants are wrongfully denied this assistance and that there is a fair, transparent process for applicants to challenge denials of assistance. 

In addition, we recommend that:

  • City and county policymakers should enact strong, permanent eviction protections to prevent unfair evictions and create long-term stability for renters.
  • State policymakers should: 
    • Immediately notify all tenants impacted by the lawsuit about the pause on denials and their ability to appeal (this includes tenants whose applications or denial appeals are still in review and who were sent denial notices on or after June 7);
    • Reverse HCD’s policy decision to not cover rental debt for rent debt incurred after March 31 and ensure that the Housing Is Key program covers 100 percent of tenants’ accrued rental debt;
    • Reinstate stronger statewide eviction protections for Covid-impacted renters without preempting local protections;
    • Institute a permanent program to support renters across the state who are struggling to get by with low incomes and exorbitant housing costs and enact more robust rent caps for all tenants;
    • Ensure that rental assistance is accessible to people with limited English proficiency, people with disabilities, and people with limited access to technology; and
    • Target rental assistance to communities of color to combat historical patterns of segregation and racial discrimination in housing opportunity.

Contact

For questions about our findings and methodology, please contact Sarah Treuhaft at sarah@policylink.org.

For media inquiries, please contact Gabriel Charles Tyler at gabriel@policylink.org.