Anticipating Los Angeles County's fair share of $25 billion in federal rent relief, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to extend and expand both a local rent relief program and eviction moratorium.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn co-authored a motion calling for more flexibility in the rent relief program, which will now also be extended for another year -- through Dec. 31.
"Hundreds of thousands are struggling to pay their rent on time or even to pay it at all,'' Hahn said.
Solis said the changes would expand eligibility and align the county's program with conditions that apply to new federal relief dollars.
"Since the program launched, many constituents have reached out to my office pleading for help as landlords refuse to receive direct payments from the Los Angeles County Development Authority, locking renters out of the program,'' Solis said. "In other cases, out of desperation, tenants have chosen to pay rent by taking out loans from predatory lenders or using credit cards despite them being eligible for rental assistance.''
Under new rules, those tenants would no longer be prohibited from receiving help. In addition to changing the conditions for eligibility, the program will now raise the available assistance from $7,500 to $10,000 for eligible households making up to 50% of the average median income.
The county will also make payments directly to property owners to supplement partial payments made earlier, now that more federal funds are available. About 70% of qualifying households received partial assistance, according to the motion.
Supervisor Holly Mitchell highlighted the need to help landlords, noting that rent relief ultimately helps property owners pay their mortgages.
Unpaid rent "creates a painful ripple effect'' among low- to moderate-income owners, Mitchell said. "(This program) is in many ways support for mom-and-pop mortgage holders.''
Some advocates -- many with the Healthy LA coalition -- called for going further and "canceling'' rent for tenants struggling financially because of the pandemic. Some characterized landlords as greedy corporations and the board's action a "half measure.''
But one senior who rented out half her house to help pay her mortgage told the board she is now in danger of losing the property because of a tenant who refused to pay rent, using the virus as an excuse despite his ability to pay.
"I hear all the ugly stories about how horrible landlords are, but I'm a senior who rented out half my house,'' Patricia Russell said. "Small landlords have problems too ... think about the landlords, who are not all bad guys.''
Healthy LA also proposes canceling mortgage debt of individual property owners and small landlords.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Solis co-authored a separate motion, also unanimously approved, to extend the eviction moratorium through Feb. 28 and expand protections for renters.
"No one should be threatened with eviction or made homeless because of the pandemic,'' Kuehl said. "Some unscrupulous property owners have been harassing renters ... through physical intimidation, rent hikes, removal of security gates and lights, and threats of eviction.''
The modifications include a prohibition on eviction if a tenant denies entry to the landlord, unless the landlord is seeking access to remedy a dangerous condition. The motion also seeks to backstop state protections that are set to expire Feb. 1.
An eviction defense attorney for Public Counsel told the board there has been an "enormous uptick'' in illegal harassment by landlords. She shared the story of a client whose landlord called child welfare officials on her, reporting unhealthy conditions that Tannenbaum said were due to the landlord's neglect. The woman is now living in her car.
"We must recognize that an eviction can be a death sentence,'' Amy Tannenbaum said. "Housing is a human right, and landlords' hunger for profit cannot take precedence over Angelenos' need for stable housing during this critical juncture.''
Supervisor Kathryn Barger offered a "friendly amendment,'' saying she wanted to support landlords in the process. She asked that the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs convene a group of tenants and landlords to provide input on the moratorium until it is lifted.
Renters seeking help can call a county counselor at 833-223-7368.