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Federal Rental Assistance for the State of California

In one of the largest spending measures ever enacted, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (H.R. 133) was signed into law on December 27, 2020, though there is a consensus among economists that the bill is not enough to stop the bleeding.

The law also extends the eviction moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but this is moot for California landlords because the state has more protective measures.

Allocation of funds to California and manner in which it is disbursed

As the most populous state in the Union, California will be the biggest recipient of rental assistance. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates the state will have $2,630,186,000 to dole out.

It is not clear which agencies will be tasked with doling out rental assistance funds, but if the CARES Act is any example, much of the money will be paid to local governments that will have to come up with their own process to distribute funds.

Timetable for rental assistance

January 26, 2021 is the deadline for the Treasury Department to fork over the funds to the states and local municipalities. In turn, state and local governments will have until December 31, 2021 to spend the funds. If they don’t use it they lose it. That is, for any states or local governments that are laggards and do not take advantage of this pot of money, the funds can be revoked starting September 30, 2021 and reallocated to other locales.

Purpose of the funds

The lion’s share of the hand up (90% to be exact) are designated for eligible households to pay for rent and rental arrears, utilities, and other expenses related to the pandemic. 10% of funds are reserved for administrative costs and case management services.

Eligibility

To qualify for rental assistance funds, renters must check all of these boxes:

» Household income no more than 80% of Area Median Income.

» At least one household member has either qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income as a consequence of COVID-19, or has incurred significant costs due to the pandemic.

» At least one person in the household must demonstrate a risk of being homeless. This can be evidenced by a past due utility or rent notice, or service of an eviction notice, unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions, or other risks to be determined by the agency charged with dispersing funds.

The federal government has mandated that agencies prioritize tenants most in need

Households with income south of 50% of Area Median Income will be first in line. A household member that has been unemployed for 90 days preceding the application for relief will also take precedence.

We hasten to say that the ball is in the court of local municipalities to come up with additional criteria if they chose to do so. Although this is not required, 2020 has taught us that given state edicts, local governments will not have to be told twice to enact their own measures. Expect local criteria to be forthcoming.

Applying for funds on behalf of tenants

Landlords can apply for help on behalf of a tenant, so long as the tenant is aware of the application and consents. Keep in mind, this process will require more than permission from the renter to seek assistance. Rental property owners will need a good deal of cooperation in filling out the application and proving eligibility.

Dollar amount up in the air

The new law does not hint at a maximum dollar amount, but it does want to break the umbilical cord. Assistance cannot last more than 12 months.

The California Apartment Association notes that because H.R. 133 is framed as the maximum allowable benefit but does not compel state and local governments to require up to 12 months of assistance, it appears that municipalities will have free reign to set their own limitations on maximum benefits.

As always, let’s keep our eye on the horizon.

 

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