Catholic Agencies Prioritize Housing Relief During the Pandemic

Whether it’s a health-related event, job loss, or other significant financial hardship, COVID-19 has struck the most vulnerable Californians the hardest

Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity… It means thinking and acting in terms of community. It means that the lives of all are prior to the appropriation of goods by a few. It also means combatting the structural causes of poverty, inequality, the lack of work, land and housing, the denial of social and labour rights.”

-Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti (October 2020)

Whether it’s a health-related event, job loss, or other significant financial hardship, COVID-19 has struck the most vulnerable Californians the hardest

Emma, one of Catholic Charities San Francisco’s thousands of rental assistance clients who lives with her teenage daughter in a small, one-bedroom apartment near Candlestick Park, lost both of her jobs during the pandemic.  By the time her first unemployment check arrived in June, her rent was already three months behind and her landlord was threatening to evict them.

“I needed help,” Emma said.

Gloria del Mar Garcia Lemus, Catholic Charities case manager, was the one to answer Emma’s call. “Families are facing unbearable financial burdens,” Lemus says. “They have used up their savings and are facing eviction. In addition to assistance with their emergency rent subsidy applications, we provide them with emotional support.”

California is home to almost 17 million renters (44 percent of all state residents).  As the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, the dire needs of California’s renters rightly received significant attention from lawmakers. Congress passed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (H.R. 133) in January 2021, which extends eviction protections to COVID-19 impacted tenants and establishes the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program. That same day, Governor Newsom signed into law SB 91 with overwhelming bipartisan support to create California’s “State Rental Assistance Program,” which uses $1.4 billion allocated to the state from H.R. 133. California’s local governments also received an additional $1.2 billion for their own rental assistance programs.

The rental assistance program is for households with incomes at or below 80 percent of Area Median Income, with a priority for households at or below 50 percent as well as households unemployed for the 90 days before application. The federal funds are to pay up to 80 percent of a tenant’s back rent accumulated between April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021. A landlord who accepts the money will have to forgive the remaining unpaid rent for that period. If the landlord declines the arrangement, the maximum subsidy drops to 25 percent.

Throughout the Golden State, Catholic Charities (CC) agencies have actively reached out to both landlords and tenants to sign them up for the rental assistance program. Rocio Moreno, a volunteer at Catholic Charities Sacramento, Common Ground California, and parishioner of Saint Mary’s Church in Vacaville has given countless hours of her time to help families get signed up and landlords on board.  Despite working eight part-time jobs and being behind in rent herself, Rocio “knew [she] wouldn’t qualify to get any assistance but wanted to help.”

When Rocio found out Catholic Charities Sacramento (CCS) was one of the distributors of the funds, she exclaimed she was “all in!” She was “willing to help regardless,” but knowing that the distributors—CCS— would come from a friendly and familiar place to her, she felt more comfortable helping out. Each family was capped at $4k for rental assistance, so when Rocio faced families that were $10K behind in rent, she wished there was more to give.

Through volunteering, Rocio got to see the urgent need for education, outreach, and awareness of the program, so she started sharing the news through word of mouth until it eventually got to the ears of her pastor, Rev. Bart Landry, who then included the news in the parish bulletin to raise awareness. Rocio noted that many families reached out after that publication. Catholic Charities Yolano-Solano (CCYOSO) distributed more than $4 million in the four months of the program to 1,300 households.

Catholic Charities San Francisco has received more than 10,000 rental assistance applications from residents in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin Counties. Phone lines and emails are flooded with requests for help. This dire need locally is reflected nationwide, as a U.S. Census Bureau survey revealed an astonishing 7.9 million tenants had “little or no confidence” in their ability to pay next month’s rent.

The application process for the State of California’s Rental Assistance Payment Program opened on March 15, 2021. The application for both landlords and tenants is available on the Housing Is Key website. Deadlines for applications vary depending on jurisdictions, so some may have closed in some areas since the time of publication. For additional information, to find a Local Partner Network organization near you, or for eligibility and application help, visit the Housing Is Key website and/or call the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Call Center at 833-430-2122.

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