Who is really being protected by rental relief programs?
In late 2020, Sacramento City Council allocated $2,7 million of its $89 million in federal coronavirus stimulus funding and $2 million in additional federal funding toward rental assistance for low-income residents. Renters could apply for up to $4,000 in assistance paid directly to their landlords through a Sacramento Emergency Rental Assistance (SERA) program with the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA).
Sounds great, but is it really?
According to Sacramento Eviction Defense Network (EDN), which was formed in August 2020 to prepare for the expected wave of evictions that will result after the eviction moratorium ends, the program falls short in helping renters. Why? It puts all the power with the landlord.
What’s really happening? Here’s an example from one Sac EDN client.
A local tenant applied for CARES Act funding through the SERA program and was approved to receive the maximum amount of funding. But, the landlord declined to sign the certification document necessary to actually distribute the funds.
Why? The likely reason: if a landlord accepts the funds, they have to write off the remaining and/or future past due rent debt accumulated by the tenant. That would be a great outcome for the tenant. But from a landlord's perspective, they would lose a ton of money.
Due to the way the SERA program is structured tenants only get assistance if the landlords agree to these terms. If the landlord declines, the renter cannot receive rental assistance leaving them in the same deep debt.
Without rental assistance, tenants could and will be left in massive debt, possibly unhoused, and unable to recover from the financial and credit issues that would come from this.
What’s at stake?
We already have over 10,000 unhoused folks on Sacramento County streets and this has the potential to put many thousands more in the same scenario. New federal funding is coming to the City of Sacramento and Sacramento County. So it is essential that the SERA program or any other program developed to disperse these funds is modified and does not require landlord approval so that tenants can actually get the financial assistance they need to help with back rent debt due to COVID.
Sac EDN has already sent a letter with specifics of this situation to the city council and mayor. Reach out to your City Councilmember to ask that:
Federal rent assistance monies be provided to tenants in a way that does not require landlords to sign off on the distribution of the funds. It needs to be tenant-friendly, not landlord-centric.
The limit for funding be raised from $4,000 to perhaps a percentage of past due rent owed like 80% or something that significantly helps those who receive assistance.
Helping people with a quarter of their debt, though nice will still keep folks in substantial debt that may take many years to crawl out from under, if they are able to survive it at all without joining the thousands of unhoused folks on our streets.
We are hoping this gets on the city council agenda and is discussed in the coming weeks, but community pressure to have a more tenant friendly rent assistance process is what is needed and what we are asking the community to support.