Rent Still A Problem In LA

Millions of people in and around Los Angeles are still struggling to pay for basic living expenses, including food and rent. Thankfully the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance program that helped so many of us keep paying our landlords is giving us a second round of relief. Mes amis, I say “us,” but I was lucky enough to hold out long enough that I never missed a payment. Lots of renters and landlords are in trouble even with the assistance, though.

It’s different here than in other cities, where you won’t find any help at all except from the federal government — and even that is limited. Technically, our assistance programs are limited too. The relief will only help 64,000 families. That might sound like a lot, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to how many people actually need help in total.

$235 million goes to rent assistance while another $3 million goes to eviction protections. It’s a start.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “The nice thing about this (program) is it goes backwards, it’s from April 1 of last year to March 31 of this year, so it’s not just about paying a month of rent or two forward. It’s about erasing that debt that is stressing out families today that wonder whether or not they will be able to make their rent, not just this month’s rent.”

The first package included $98.26 million for rent subsidy. 

BUT…City Council President Nury Martinez acknowledged, “A year into the pandemic, 90,000 Californians are still behind on their rent, the city’s unemployment is still over 10% and families in our city owe anywhere between $4,000 and $7,000 in past rent due. This program will bring working families one stop closer to recovery.”

The program works in one of two ways, depending on whether or not a landlord wants to cooperate. If both tenant and landlord agree to apply for assistance, then the landlord will be compensated for at least 80 percent of the unpaid rent that built up between 4/1/20 and 3/31/21. The big question mark is whether landlords will agree to the final term of the deal: waiving that last 20% of unpaid rent completely. That could be a huge sticking point unless they think they won’t get anything without an agreement.

The second option — if the landlord doesn’t agree — is for the renter to receive a quarter of the unpaid rent and assistance for the upcoming months. It’s not as good as the former option — and to me it hardly makes sense at all — but it’s something. Still, why not give the 80% directly to the renter and ask them to take responsibility for the remaining 20% if the landlord doesn’t agree? It’s putting the burden on the renter for no reason.

People forget this: renting land and infrastructure is an investment like any other. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a return on your investment. Sometimes, the world doesn’t cooperate. COVID happens!