Despite disappointing many tenants last month by lifting the eviction ban, Contra Costa County took a big step this week by offering financial assistance to thousands of residents affected by the pandemic to pay their rent.
The Supervisory Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to commit $ 71 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to provide emergency rental assistance to Contra Costa County residents and homeowners under a program already underway by the state.
The county has also received an additional $ 112 million from federal law for other COVID efforts, but has yet to decide how to spend that money.
The Massive Relief Act, signed by President Joe Biden in March and backed by Democratic members of Congress, has freed up nearly $ 350 billion to help states, counties and cities recover from financial losses associated with COVID-19. This included billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance programs, of which Contra Costa received its $ 71 million.
To date, the county has paid out about $ 65 million in federal aid to more than 5,000 of the 14,000 tenants who have applied for rental assistance since the program began last year under another federal incentive law. About 5,000 more people filed applications within a month after supervisors lifted the eviction ban, Tim Ewell, the county’s chief assistant administrator, said Tuesday.
Tenants can apply through the government’s Housing is Key website. Those who are approved can receive up to 100% rent and utility bills. Even though the eviction ban has ended, landlords cannot evict their tenants until they are allowed to apply for a rental exemption for the first time.
However, the state has been slow to disburse aid, having so far paid just $ 815 million out of more than $ 4.2 billion in requests for rent and utility bills. Government housing authorities have ensured that every cent of the $ 7.2 billion program will ultimately be spent.
Several residents and housing advocates attending Tuesday’s meeting called on the Supervisory Board to strengthen the legal services component of the program.
“Mediation is only useful for tenants when they are eligible for detailed legal advice, not tenants signing agreements out of fear or intimidation,” said Betty Gabaldon, a Contra Costa County housing activist.
Hector Malvido of the Richmond Community Foundation also questioned whether the program’s legal proposals would be beneficial to tenants facing unique housing challenges.
“I ask you to fund these tenant legal services more critically and more actively,” Malvido said, “and do not rely on pro bono attorneys to do the work that an in-house paid attorney must do when it comes to legal representation.”
Supervisors agreed to spend a portion of the grant on hiring independent mediators to help resolve disputes and using pro bono lawyers to provide legal advice. However, the program does not provide for legal representation for tenant litigation.
Deciding to lift the ban on evictions of tenants last month, supervisors agreed that the economy had opened up enough for people to resume work.
At the time, Surveyor John Joey asked the county to consider creating legal protections for needy tenants as part of their rental assistance program.
In addition to grants that must be spent strictly on rental assistance, the Treasury Department is giving local and state governments the ability to spend billions of dollars under the American Rescue Plan Act from over 60 subcategories ranging from COVID-19 vaccination to a premium for certain workers. , business grants for water supply, sewerage and Internet infrastructure.
Many governments, including Contra Costa County, which expects to end up with $ 317 million by next spring, are still trying to figure out how to spend discretionary money and setting priority rules.
The rest have already decided. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, for example, recently sparked controversy when it voted to allocate $ 76 million of that money to give all of its employees bonuses of up to $ 2,500 each.