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: November 1, 2022
In September 2022, the Atlas learned that the data set provided by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) on the status of program applications may be incomplete. HCD has noted in documents filed with the courts that they are processing 110,000 pending cases, but our HCD-provided dataset includes approximately 10,000 pending cases. The latest data set we received from HCD in October 2022 is still missing the 100,000 additional pending cases that are referenced in their court documents. We are waiting to hear back from HCD about the discrepancy between the various datasets.
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.