Local Journalism Happens With YouSupport

Boyle Heights Tenants Call for California Legislature to Cancel Rent

The end of the state's Emergency Rental Assistance Program will leave thousands of Angelenos vulnerable to eviction.

woman speaking at press conference
(Photo: Berny Orantes)

Boyle Heights residents held a press conference on March 24 in front of the Ronald Reagan State Building on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. Tenants raised their concerns as California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), also known as “Housing Is Key,” was set to expire on March 31, leaving thousands of Angelenos vulnerable to eviction.  

Just hours before the program’s expiration on March 31, the state Legislature passed AB 2179, extending some eviction protections until June 30. This gives the state three more months to help the more than 300,000 tenants still waiting for assistance.

“We have helped over 500 families apply for aid, but the program fails to release funds and respond to applicants’ questions,” said Leonardo Vilchis, an organizer with Unión De Vecinos (UDV). “They leave individuals and families without understanding their debt while subjecting them to potential eviction in the coming months.”

The Los Angeles Tenants Union is a diverse group of residents from across the city working together to assist renters in applying for government assistance and fighting evictions. Unión De Vecinos, the Eastside local of LATU in Boyle Heights, organized the press conference to bring awareness of the looming crisis of evictions that will hurt Black and brown communities. 

In the first three months of 2021, in a sign of increased evictions, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department carried out 3,675 enforced lockouts. There were 4,002 lockouts in the last six months of 2020. In addition, Los Angeles city officials tallied 66,433 people experiencing homelessness in January 2020 — an increase from 58,936 in 2019.   

There have been 300,000 job losses locally in the city of Los Angeles since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. Boyle Heights, with a population of 86,156, saw a loss of 27,123 jobs. The Los Angeles controller’s research found that low-income renters and single-parent households in Central, South, and Northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods with majority African American and Latino families were impacted the most.

In May of 2020, the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy published a report titled “UD Day: Impending Evictions and Homelessness in Los Angeles,” which finds that 599,000 workers in Los Angeles County lost their jobs with no unemployment insurance or other income. Of those unemployed, 75%  live in rental housing. They are carrying the second most enormous rent burden of all the urban areas in the United States. Across the county, 558,000 children live in households that are unlikely to be able to pay rent.   

“If the state can no longer extend or sustain this rental program (ERAP), then the state needs to move forward in canceling everyone’s rent,” said Kenia Alcocer, an organizer with Los Angeles Tenants Union and the Poor People’s Campaign.

Alcocer continued by mentioning a recent report on the Echo Park Lake encampment, also by the UCLA Luskin Institute. A year ago, 183 unhoused people were evicted from Echo Park Lake. According to LAHSA data, only 17 have found housing.

(Image: UCLA Luskin Institute)

Alcocer mentions that those who cannot pay rent today could end up homeless, and the report shows that the city is not capable of housing folks who need it the most. To avoid a larger unhoused population, California needs to cancel rents and help those in need, said Alcocer. 

Speakers at the press conference voiced their frustration with the program. Most renters are Spanish-speaking only and have requested to receive information in Spanish, but they still receive everything in English.

“We call, and we are on hold for hours,” said Rocío a la Torre, a LA resident. “And when we speak to someone, they don’t speak Spanish and just tell us that our application is under review.”

According to reports from Unidos US, between 2001 and 2014, the percentage of Latino renters paying 30% or more of their income on rent grew from 46% to 55.8%. In addition, Latinos account for 21% of extremely low-income renters. In 2018, there were only 7 million affordable housing units in the country, for 11 million renters who earn a low income.

man speaks at press conference
(Photo: Berny Orantes)

Unión De Vecinos helped hundreds of families apply for ERAP, but only 12% have received funds, said Vilchis. Most applicants have yet to receive a response to their status, and some have received denial letters.

“You cannot complete the application without uploading all documents and filling out every box,” said Rocío a la Torre. “But they tell us that our application is incomplete.”

The newly passed AB 2179 extends eviction protections until June 30 for tenants who have already applied for rental assistance. However, the new law does not extend the original deadline for applications. After March 31, no new ERAP applications will be accepted, and tenants who haven’t yet applied will be vulnerable to eviction.

While tenants are waiting for assistance, their debts continue to rise. According to the National Equity Atlas, between September 1, 2021, and February 23, 2022, over half a million people have applied for assistance, owing to their landlords an estimated $3.5 billion in back rent. Among the residents, one in three received an eviction notice and/or a threat from their landlord once they applied. 

On March 22, L.A. Taco reported that half of the $1.3 billion COVID relief money the city received under the American Rescue Plan was transferred to the city last year, and $317 million went to the Los Angeles Police Department, according to city officials.