After an infusion of funding from the federal and state funds, the City of Long Beach is embarking on what Mayor Robert Garcia called “the largest tenant assistance program we’ve ever had in the city.”
In late December 2020, Congress passed the Federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. In the wake of nationwide financial strains caused by the pandemic, the act established a $25 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
The plan allocates $2.6 billion to the State of California, $1.1 billion of which is allocated directly to counties and cities with populations over 200,000, including Long Beach.
The City of Long Beach has been awarded a federal allocation of $13.8 million for emergency rental assistance. In addition, the State has reserved $14.8 million in Block Grant funds for Long Beach.
“What we’re looking at in front of us is by far the single largest opportunity to help tenants, particularly during this pandemic,” Garcia said.
Long Beach is a majority renter city. Of households with more than five members, 57% are renters and 79% are low-income.
According to the City’s 2016 Equitable Growth Profile, one-quarter of jobs in Long Beach are low-wage jobs, but only about one in 10 rental housing units are affordable to low-wage workers. Women heads of household, and Black women in particular struggle with affordability, as they are more likely than men to be rent-burdened.
Last summer, the City of Long Beach set up its own rental assistance program in the wake of COVID-induced strains on renters. Recognizing the demand for assistance, the City allocated those funds via a lottery system. Only a fraction of those who qualified received assistance due to limited funding.
“We all know we have just a tremendous need when it comes to our renters who have been severely impacted by COVID,” Councilmember Mary Zendejas said. “In many cases, they are behind in payments and, and in severe risk of losing their home. […] This is going to help a population that we’ve been wanting to help and that we’ve been advocating for, which is both our tenants and our landlords.”
Rather than allowing the State to allocate the funds, the council unanimously chose to self-administer funding by creating a local program that combines both State and federal allocation resources.
This way, City officials will be able to collaborate with local community organizations to disperse funds. By administering its own program, the City will also set up a scheme for dispensing rental assistance that could be used in the future.
“This allows us to set up the scaffolding support for the front door on rental assistance,” Vice Mayor Rex Richardson said.
There is a time limit on when these dollars can be allocated. Uncommitted block grant funds revert to the State on Aug. 1 of this year. Uncommitted federal funds will return to the U.S. Treasury on Sept. 31 of this year. All funds will expire on Dec. 31 of this year.
“Given the short timeframe and the significant amount of resources to commit, it is possible under [locally-led allocation] that not all funds will be committed by the required timeframe,” the agenda item states. “But staff will do everything possible to utilize all funds available.”
Legal Aid Foundation attorney Melody Osuna encouraged councilmembers to look at state requirements as a floor rather than a ceiling. Cities are required to prioritize rent-burdened tenants with 50% or less of the Area Median Income.
“These tenants do not always have access to other kinds of safety nets,” she said. “These funds can be the difference between being housed and ending up on the street.”
The next Long Beach City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 5 p.m. via teleconference.