A handful of the city’s most financially destitute tenants will soon have the means to pay at least some of the back rent they have come to owe their landlords during the COVID-19 lockdown.
A total of $1 million in Community Development Block Grants provided by the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will be distributed in the form of $4,500 separate grants (or no more than three months rent) to 220 tenants based not on first come first served but a point system that targets those most in need.
In the opinion of some people, however, the program is far from enough to forestall economic catastrophe for thousands of renters who took advantage of the City Council’s rent moratorium and must pay back landlords for those six months of rent.
Councilwoman Margaret McAustin wanted to make sure the complex process was not too cumbersome for the average working class family.
Councilman Steve Madison was somewhat disappointed the program was not more inclusive.
“I was sort of hoping to see a category here for city or school district employees,” Madison said. “Let’s say you’re a custodian for the school district and you work hard and maybe you work two jobs, you might not fit the income requirement, did you give any thought (to that)?”
City Housing Officer Bill Huang said he didn’t, but critics of the plan have, and said as much in their correspondence with the council on this brewing issue.
“The Pasadena City Council has once again demonstrated that landlords come first. This proposal for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program will benefit very few tenants while bailing out landlords and providing a fig leaf for the city’s displacement and gentrification crisis,” wrote Matthew Sorrenti.
Councilman Victor Gordo recused himself from the discussion because he owns rental property.
Councilman Gene Masuda did not recuse himself, declaring he owns no rental property in Pasadena, contrary to public perception.
“The council rightly acknowledges that a wave of evictions against tenants who cannot afford to pay back-rent after the COVID-19 emergency is on the horizon. However, their pitiful solution offers no shelter in the storm,” Sorrenti wrote.
The payout is in response to a rental moratorium imposed by the council, which allows those affected by COVID-19 to defer six months of rental payments — money which must be repaid after the crisis lifts. The separate grants would go directly to the landlord, not the tenant.
To qualify for a grant, an applicant must have: resided in the city of Pasadena; notified their landlord according to the city’s eviction moratorium of the inability to pay rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic; a current residential lease agreement; a total household income for the next 12 months that does not exceed low income limits based on the number of persons living in the household. In other words, the tenant’s annual gross income cannot exceed 80 percent of the area median income.
The money will be allocated based on a a 30 point system in which points are awarded for continuous tenancy in Pasadena for a minimum of five years – 10 points; having at least one minor 17 years or younger in the household – 8 points; having only one adult income in the household – 6 points; having a household with four or more persons – 4 points; and having at least one senior or disabled person in the household – 2 points.
While some expressed thanks for the funding in correspondence filed with the city clerk’s office in relation to a hearing Monday on the grant program, others were not so kind to local policymakers.
“The proposal reflects a landlord-first approach that dominates this discourse,” wrote Ryan Bell, a former council candidate for Madison’s District 6 seat.
“Here’s a better idea. Do what the Pasadena Tenants Union has been demanding: Forgive back rents for tenants who have a COVID-19 reason for their inability to pay. Then put landlords through this ridiculous gauntlet of means testing to see if they qualify for assistance. Better still, pass a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) for the city of Pasadena,” Bell wrote.
Said Allison Hill of the Pasadena Tenants Union: “As representatives of a tenant majority city, you need to do more. You cannot merely represent your own landlord class. We have vacant units in the city. We have units in the city that are for short-term, vacation rentals that could be part of permanent housing stock. We should be looking at policies to reduce current rents, bring in more aggressive rent control than the state, and push for vacancy de-control (repeal of Costa Hawkins) to keep tenancies in Pasadena stable beyond the pandemic and economic fallout. Together, we can do more.”
Unlike some of the others who wrote, longtime homeless advocate Anthony Manousos commended the City Council for the program, which will help those who are income-qualified to stay in their apartments.
“This is an excellent way to prevent homelessness. It is much harder and more expensive to re-house someone experiencing homelessness than it is to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place,” Manousos wrote.
“During this COVID- 19 crisis the city needs to do all it can to help low-income residents to stay housed.”