Joel Trujillo owes more than $8,000 in rent, is out of a job, and is running out of options.
He recently had a stroke and is taking medication for his diabetes and high blood pressure. The stress of the overdue rent only makes his symptoms worse.
The 51-year-old Downtown Long Beach resident applied for the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program in April. But as the Sept. 30 deadline for the state and local eviction moratorium approaches, he hasn’t yet received a single payment.
“I don’t know what to do,” Trujillo said in Spanish.
Trujillo is just one of many tenants across California who are thousands of dollars behind on their rent and could end up on the streets starting Oct. 1.
“Tenants are extremely concerned that they are going to be evicted and rendered homeless,” Barbara Schultz, director of housing justice for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said. “A lot of tenants still need the protections going forward that are no longer going to exist.”
A recent analysis of California’s rental debt from Policy Link, an Oakland-based research firm, found that over 246,000 homes are behind on rent in Los Angeles County, with residents owing a cumulative $867 million.
But it seems that eviction protection for tenants will no longer be there as the California Legislature adjourned for the year last week with no action to extend the moratorium. Los Angeles County officials have not implemented an extension either. The local ordinance in Long Beach was only extended into late July and since then depended on other local moratoriums.
Shultz and many other tenant-rights advocates and advisers who have been assisting renters since the start of the pandemic have described the anticipated evictions as a tsunami that is looming on the horizon.
She added that families who are still catching up from the economic hardships of the pandemic will be particularly affected by evictions.
“It’s going to be hard for tenants to assert a defense without defense attorneys,” Shultz said. “There is a shortage of defense attorneys as the demand for help navigating eviction processes grows.”
Some organizations that support both small- and large-scale landlords have disputed the tsunami analogy.
Fred Sutton, vice president of public affairs for the California Apartment Association, said those who will likely receive eviction notices are renters who did not take action to apply for government programs provided throughout the pandemic.
“You hear a lot from certain groups about this ‘tsunami,’” Sutton said. “That’s completely overblown.”
Sutton added that statewide protections intended to keep people in their homes during the pandemic added more pressure to landlords who were expected to provide housing, but as people stayed home, maintenance costs have gone “through the roof.”
“It’s been incredibly difficult,” Sutton said.
Despite the disagreements over the state of rental housing, one thing both organizations agree on is that tenants and landlords should still apply for rental assistance programs before the Sept. 30 deadline.
In Long Beach, the window to apply will remain open after Sept. 30.
Shultz said that a tenant faced with an unlawful detainer notice to evict a unit can use a pending or approved rental assistance application as a defense to stave off eviction. Sutton said the communication to landlords since the beginning of the pandemic was always to work together with tenants to apply for rental assistance.
“There is no reason anyone should face evictions if they applied for assistance,” Sutton said.
However, both landlord consultants and tenant-rights advocates have called the process confusing and the rate at which money has been dispersed has been painstakingly slow.
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