Los Angeles city’s emergency rent-relief program was unveiled with much fanfare in March by Council President Nury Martinez. But several months later, it is getting some flak from a fellow council member who on Friday, Aug. 6, who criticized the rollout of the program as being too slow to release critical financial aid to struggling tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councilman Kevin de Leon, who gathered with community organizers and groups, representatives of property owner groups and others at the Mariachi Plaza train station, urged faster action on getting the aid released.
He pointed to the “tens of thousands of people on the cusp of joining another 41,000 Angelenos experiencing homelessness, all because of bureaucracy that is too slow to process paperwork, too slow to get emergency relief to people facing eviction.”
He and others referred to data from an online dashboard that showed that just $35 million of the $235 million set aside for the program have been issued three months after application period closed.
The aid was made available to low-income Los Angeles city households in which members have qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income, suffered financial hardship and significant costs either directly or indirectly because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Martinez — who championed the program back in March — said the aid was being made available to “those desperately in need of help.”
On Friday, at De Leon’s news conference, Fevi Sanchez, a community organizer with Community Power Collective, said she and other organizers have helped dozens of people in Boyle Heights fill out applications, which can be a very technical and difficult process.
None of the the people she has helped fill out applications have seen the aid, Sanchez said.
“Why is the city taking so long to release the money?” she asked. Meanwhile, those tenants tell her they are “very concerned.”
“Landlords have been harassing them,” Sanchez said. “They’ve been asking, ‘If you apply and you qualify, why isn’t that money coming in?’”
De Leon, along with organizers and others, also said that because applications have not yet re-opened to allow more tenants to apply, many renters are at risk of eviction if they cannot show they have a pending aid application.
The application period for the $235 million emergency rent relief program closed more than three months ago, on April 30. De Leon introduced a motion Friday calling for a report in 10 days discussing how the city could get all of the money issued by Oct. 1. The motion was co-authored by Councilman Gil Cedillo and seconded by Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez. It was referred to the City Council’s ad hoc committee on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Martinez has been monitoring the progress of the program regularly, an aide said. But the spokesperson did not respond to a question about what the council president thought about the delay.
“We regularly communicate with the department and they are working on a report that requests additional resources from the Council to allow them to expedite the process,” Martinez aide Sophie Gilchrist said.
Martinez, however, did not sign onto De Leon’s motion. A separate motion by Martinez, and seconded by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, called for the application process to be re-opened, a call that was also included in De Leon’s motion.
Martinez, who stepped into the role of council president a few months before the pandemic, has promoted the emergency rent relief program as key component of aid program that she is taking a lead on to help Angelenos affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. This program, along with an earlier pilot, has relied on emergency federal and state aide that has poured in to the city of Los Angeles amid the pandemic.
It was unclear if De Leon and Martinez’s staffers consulted with each other to investigate the mattered of the delay. That question was unanswered, as of press time.
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After the news conference, De Leon did not comment on Martinez’s role in addressing this delay in the rental relief program. Garcetti had also joined the council president to unveil the program in March.
“Kudos to them (Garcetti and Martinez) for starting this program,” De Leon said. “All we need to do is accelerate the efforts of the city departments to get the checks out the door.”
De Leon said that his goal for raising the issue of a delay was the “fear and panic among residents.”
“My measurement is not an artificial bureaucratic timeline,” he said. “My measurement that I gauge how our constituents are feeling is by engaging with my constituents and they need that rent now, not by some artificial bureaucratic timeline.”