In an effort to provide assistance to local residents who have experienced a loss of income or increase in expenses due to the pandemic, the City of Santa Monica is now accepting applications for the recently launched COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
The COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program will provide eligible applicants with up to three months of rental assistance. Applications opened Tuesday and residents are allowed to apply until noon Friday, July 17. All eligible applications will subsequently be entered into a lottery for final selection.
Since March, cities across California have instituted eviction moratoriums that extend until the end of the pandemic, but Maggie Willis, a human services administrator with the City of Santa Monica, said the Housing & Human Services Division recognizes it will be hard for residents to pay their rent after the moratoriums expire because there are a lot of folks who may remain unemployed or still have very limited income.
“So, when the federal government released the CARES act and additional funds became available to the city for COVID-related impacts, the first thing we thought to use it for was rental assistance,” Willis said, mentioning the program is unique because it focuses on keeping people in their home if they’re unable to pay their rent after the moratorium.
“We’re trying to help as many as we can and with the amount of money that we have available. We estimate that if everyone used the maximum amount that it would be about 300 households,” Willis added. “And I know that a lot of people may hesitate to request government assistance if they have members of their household who are undocumented so we really want to reassure people that we don’t ask those questions — and we have a separate pod of city general funds to help people who may not qualify for any federal assistance. So, we are encouraging everyone who has a need that is Covid-related and is unable to pay their rent to apply.”
Rental assistance payments will be made directly to landlords or property management companies on behalf of qualifying Santa Monica residents, and the City has opted to partner with St. Joseph Center, a local nonprofit organization who provides rental assistance experience to low-income populations, to expedite both the application review process and the payment of emergency rental assistance to landlords on behalf of Santa Monica residents.
“We’ve led a charge for quite some time in trying to ensure that families and individuals do not become homeless but this is now a new layer with COVID,” said Maia Eaglin, Director of Family Services & RRH at St. Joseph Center, while she detailed how families across the county are no longer able to borrow from family members or compromise with their landlords. “So really what you’re seeing now is that people are kind of running out of their problem-solving solutions.”
While operating the same program for the unincorporated districts of Los Angeles County, Eaglin said, the program is expected to assist 135 families in the area but it had more than 1,000 people end up in the lottery.
“That just tells you the need and that was just from a specific area,” Eaglin said, and she imagines a similar scenario will play out in Santa Monica. But both she and Willis said its key for locals to not get discouraged by the number of applicants.
“Definitely, everybody should apply because part of going through this process is that we’re also trying to educate the public too. So if you don’t qualify for this program then there are lots of other resources — now some of them may not be as low-barrier as this program,” Eaglin said. “But there are other basic needs that people can be connected to,” like food banks, which could be crucial in helping families save a few dollars in the long run.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from our most vulnerable residents that making rent and putting food on the table are urgent concerns,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown. “These two new crucial basic-need programs are meant to help our neighbors most at risk. Your city is very clear that we’re all in this together, and we continue not only to fight the spread of COVID-19 but to support those of us most impacted by the pandemic’s effect on jobs and the economy.”