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Bay Area renters fear end of eviction moratorium amid state rental assistance backlog

Bay Area renters fear end of eviction moratorium amid state rental assistance backlog
Bay Area renters fear end of eviction moratorium amid state rental assistance backlog 02:43

ANTIOCH – The state has been slow to pay the rental assistance it promised to tenants and landlords during the pandemic. Now thousands of Californians, including here in the Bay Area, are threatened with eviction in spite of the program that was supposed to prevent it. 

A year ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom proudly announced a program to completely reimburse landlords for the unpaid rent people owed during the pandemic.

"100 percent of your back rent, taken care of," he said at the time.

So, a lot of tenants and landlords scrambled to apply for the program, which was set to end on March 31. Kamilah Miller was one of them.

"I submitted my paperwork March 10th. I haven't heard a peep," said Miller.  "I even called just to say, hey, just want to make sure everything's in there.  And they're, like, 'It's in there.'  And that's it..."

Miller operates a preschool out of her Antioch home. The house is her business and means of support, and despite diligently paying rent through most of the pandemic, she now owes about $4,000 and she is afraid of what could happen when the ban on evictions ends.

"It was exciting to know that it was there, but then once you applied and you heard nothing for months, it's just back to scary," she told KPIX 5. "You feel like you're just back on your own."

Tenants say it's a common problem. Processing applications has been painfully slow and now, a growing number of tenants, who fit the income profile, are being denied because of problems with the paperwork.

Under the current law, if the debt isn't retired by June 30, they could all be evicted.

Sarah Treuhaft, VP of Research for a group called Policy Link, co-authored an analysis of state data that estimates 45,000 applicants will not have their claims processed by the time the moratorium ends.

"We know some people who are denied rental assistance will become homeless. And here we are with an almost $100 billion budget surplus?" said Treuhaft.  "If you know that your program is not going to process applications fast enough, we don't think tenants should be penalized just because they haven't received the rent relief yet."

Housing advocates said the only way the state can prevent a homeless explosion is by reopening the rental assistance program and continuing the eviction moratorium until officials can eliminate the backlog of applications. 

One tenant's rights group, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said some landlords are taking advantage of a loophole caused by the rent relief program ending in March, three months before the eviction moratorium will.

"So, they will only evict the tenant for April rent, or they will only evict the tenant for May rent, so they can still get the tenant out, but the landlord still receives the rental assistance for all of the other months," said ACCE Senior Attorney Jackie Zaneri.

In fairness, a lot of small landlords signed up for the program as well, and are also stalled, waiting for relief.  Some of them haven't been paid rent for more than two years.

Back in Antioch, Kamilah understands how they feel. She knows what it feels like when your income is tied to your home.

"Yeah, renters and landlords are stressed out right now," she said. "The pandemic may be somewhat over, but the debt isn't."

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