An ERAS recipient finds out too little too late that his acceptance into the program doesn’t mean he won’t have to pay September rent.
Like hundreds of thousands of other Angelenos, my wife and I live life precariously, wallowing below the poverty line in a city for the rich. She’s an immigrant from France and a full-time student; I’m a union actor who has made ends meet financially between TV and theatre gigs by driving over 13,000 trips for Uber and, more recently, with background and body double work.
Like hundreds of thousands of other working class Angelenos, the COVID-19 pandemic hit us hard when it shut the economy down in March. I immediately lost a union body double job on a popular Netflix series, ride-share demand plummeted to almost nothing, and on top of everything, I herniated the L5-S1 in my lower back, leaving me unable to sit behind a steering wheel without excruciating pain anyway.
The CARES Act passed by Congress and signed by Trump in March may have been woefully inadequate, but at least it was able to rescue tens of millions of American households, including our own, from financial ruin during a period of mass unemployment with the $600/week expanded unemployment benefits. As the weeks of joblessness turned into months, the dog days of summer set in, and the late-July expiration of these benefits loomed, economic anxiety was high in our East Hollywood one-bedroom apartment.
I was excited when my wife sent me a text about the Emergency Rental Assistance Subsidy program, set up by The Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department to help 50,000 Angeleno households adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, by paying their rent for a month with federal stimulus money allocated to the city. I was even more excited when, on July 25, I was informed via email that we were one of the 50,000 households selected. I did think it odd, however, that the funds would not be available to us in time to pay our August rent, and that they would be sent directly to our landlord instead of a cash payment to us in the value of our monthly rent.
Nonetheless, I uploaded the necessary paperwork, brought additional paperwork to an August 17 in-person appointment, and assumed we were good to go for September. I even emailed Excel Residential Services, the company that owns our building, informing them we had been selected by the ERAS program and asking for a mailing address to which the rent payment could be sent. They provided me one, I gave it to LAHCID, and I went about my life. I even started to audition again for the first time in months.
Then, on September 4, three days after rent was due, my worst fear came to life as I woke up to find a voicemail from our property manager.
“Hi, good morning, Dylan. This is *** from ****** ******. I’m so sorry but my company do not accept that program. My company name is Excel Residential. Sorry. Thank you, bye bye.”
They “do not accept” rental assistance? What?!
I didn’t bother calling her back. She’s just hired to do the company’s dirty work, after all. My call immediately went to The Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department to let them know my renter’s rights were being trampled by a greedy corporate landlord. Surely the city would come to my rescue and tell that money grubbing capitalist he can’t simply refuse a government rental assistance payment and try to profit off our eviction. And certainly not during a global pandemic.
Oh…but he can!
After waiting on hold for 40 minutes, a very dejected-sounding Josue gave me the bad news: the landlord has to agree to participate in the program and accept the certain basic tenant protections that come with it, like not imposing interest, late fees, or rent increases. Oh, and to not evict them.
So we are completely at the mercy of our landlord, who owns properties like ours to extract as much profit from tenants as possible, and is apparently supposed to just accept these conditions out of the goodness of his heart. Or something.
Josue directed me to a website that informed me of the few rights I do have as a renter during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that was that. Oof.
In essence, the Emergency Rental Subsidy Assistance program was just another neoliberal sham; a landlord bailout program that made sure funds could only end up in their bank accounts and never in the hands of the tenants who desperately need them. And that’s only if the landlord decides it’s even worth his while financially.
So, all of a sudden, September rent was due again — rent that we absolutely did not have.
Since I graduated college in 2007, a year has never passed in which I haven’t booked a paying acting job, or two, or three, by September. These jobs have helped sustain me financially throughout the year.
I haven’t worked yet as an actor in 2020 and, sadly, with the vast majority of TV and film production still shut down, and theatre all but nonexistent, it looks like I might not any time soon.
Fortunately, I was able to get Microdiscectomy surgery in May and can now comfortably sit in a car again. But, frankly, I am not not willing to risk my health and my wife’s health right now for a ride-share company that is threatening to shut down operations in California if they’re not able to continue exploiting the labor of the drivers who make them rich. So I continue to withhold my labor from them.
Needless to say, our financial situation remains as dire as ever, made even worse by Congress’ total failure to pass any additional pandemic relief since March. And if not for the solidarity and generosity of some close friends and Twitter leftists who flooded my Cash App with donations upon reading my story, my wife and I would probably have to seriously consider temporarily moving in with my parents in San Diego.
While this spirit of mutual aid is a vision of the world I hope we can create for future generations, citizens of a nation that loves to hail itself “the greatest country on earth” should never have to rely on Cash App donations in lieu of housing policy that prioritizes human life over private profit.
Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that such policy does not exist. Not in the City of Los Angeles, anyway. That’s for sure.
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