By Soumya Karlamangla
New York Times
Perhaps it’s a sign that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind us, or that it has stretched on far longer than we ever expected, but two key pandemic-related safety net programs are soon coming to a close.
Starting Friday, the first day of October, Californians will no longer be guaranteed up to two extra weeks of paid sick leave for COVID-19 illnesses, and, for the first time in more than a year, landlords will be able to kick tenants out for not paying their rent.
Many low-income workers are angered by the termination of these programs, especially just weeks after 2.2 million Californians lost enhanced unemployment benefits. But it doesn’t seem likely the safeguards will be extended.
For renters, however, other kinds of financial aid are available — and they may be more helpful than any assistance thus far.
First, it’s important to note that though the state’s eviction moratorium is expiring on Sept. 30, some places in California have local laws that will continue to prevent landlords from evicting tenants.
Those include Fresno County, Alameda County, Solano County as well as the cities of Berkeley and Oakland. Your town might have a similar protection.
But no matter where you live, people who meet income requirements can take advantage of a state program that offers to pay 100% of back rent accrued during the pandemic as well as unpaid water and electricity bills.
If that sounds as if it would cost a huge amount of money, that’s because it does. The $7.2 billion California has made available amounts to the most expansive rent forgiveness program in U.S. history.
There’s no deadline to apply, and the state will continue to dole out funds until they run out. Californians can get up to 18 months in back rent covered.
“Apply as soon as possible, but no one should fear that the rent relief program is going away any time soon,” Gustavo Velasquez, director of the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, told The Los Angeles Times.
To qualify for the rental assistance, you must have been somehow financially harmed by the pandemic — though no proof is required — and your income must be below 80% of the annual median income in your region.
For Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose — the state’s three biggest cities — a family of four would qualify if they made below $94,600, $97,000 and $117,750, respectively.
The state’s program, made possible in part by our unexpected budget surplus, could theoretically cover unpaid rent for every Californian.
According to an analysis from PolicyLink and USC Equity Research Institute, 14% of California households owe back rent, which amounts to a total of $2.5 billion in rent debt.
That’s less than half of the funds the state has available.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.