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Rent relief

With pandemic waning, some rent protections for Richmond tenants are going away

on May 23, 2022

Last month marked the end of the application period for the COVID-19 Rent Relief Program in California, pushing tenants who struggle to pay rent back into the path of eviction. 

The program, which closed after a year on March 31, has helped 2,428 Richmond households so far, providing $11,507 in assistance, on average. That amount is slightly above the average amount distributed across the state, which has processed more than 286,000 applications. 

A bill that passed on the same day as the rent relief application portal closed, moved the date when landlords can start eviction proceedings from April 1 to July 1, giving a grace period specifically for tenants who have applied for rent relief and are still waiting to find out if their applications were approved. Housing advocates fear that a flood of eviction notices may come this summer when that protection goes away.

A moratorium to protect California renters who failed to pay rent expired at the end of September. But the rent relief program continued to shield tenants from eviction for another six months.

Rent relief
Charlene Cornelious poses for a portrait in Richmond park. (Kori Suzuki)

For those who have applied for and received funds, the rent relief has been a life-changer. Charlene Cornelious, a long-time Richmond resident, is one of them.

Unable to work because of Crohn’s disease, Cornelious’ only source of income was $368 per month in disability benefits, less than half of her monthly rent of $960. Cornelious applied for  relief in August and was approved in October. But the approval was only the start of a five-month process for the money to actually arrive.

“It was a long wait, a stressful wait,” Cornelious said. In March, $4,000 from the fund was released for her rent. 

Now Cornelious is physically feeling better and is back to work as a certified nursing assistant in San Pablo. With the rent relief and her job, she is gradually getting back on her feet. 

The program has been helpful for people who don’t have other financial support, said Katrina Vizinau, senior housing counselor at the Community Housing Development Corp., a Bay Area nonprofit that helped tenants file relief applications. For some, the program offered their only hope to maintain their home and stability. 

Now that the state is no longer accepting applications for rent relief, tenants who have trouble paying rent have fewer options.

“I think that they’re in a completely different boat, definitely more vulnerable now,” said Nicolas Traylor, executive director of the Richmond Rent Program

In Richmond, the Rent Program can help by providing mediation for landlords and tenants to set up possible payment plans. And financial assistance is still available through the Richmond Rapid Response Fund.  R3F — a joint effort by the City of Richmond, Richmond Rent Program, West Contra Costa Public Education Fund, The RYSE Center, Richmond Promise, and Building Blocks for Kids — was set up during the pandemic to meet immediate needs such as housing and food.

Vizinau said the success rate of applications for R3F is as high as 98%. Unlike the state Rent Relief Program, which takes a long time to process applications and is given based on area median income, R3F has no particular income guideline and is a self-attested fund, which means R3F talks to landlords to verify the problems reported. 

Since the moratorium ended in September, eviction filings generally have declined in Richmond, though they went up slightly in December and February, according to data obtained from the Rent Program through a public records request. 

Traylor noted that his staff is preparing for an uptick in evictions. Once California lifts the state of emergency put in place during the pandemic, other protections for renters likely will follow, he said, such as Richmond’s own eviction moratorium, which doesn’t protect tenants who miss rent payments but does block many other evictions. 

“I think if the virus infection rates continue to decrease, the various moratoria will likely go away,” Traylor said. “And with that, we’re expecting a significant increase and notices being served on tenants.”

Kori Suzuki contributed to this story.

1 Comment

  1. Mike Vasilas on May 23, 2022 at 10:26 pm

    I’m glad Mrs. Cornelius was taken care of. However, I find it interesting that you would choose a recipient/beneficiary of rent relief/the eviction moratorium whose hardship appears to be completely unrelated to COVID-19. The emergency of COVID-19 was the basis for the drastic legislative measures that have continued to threaten the livelihood of housing providers throughout the country, was it not? Might be worthwhile to invest in some data research, and find out how much, if any, COVID-19 has a current and direct impact on a tenant’s ability to pay rent.

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