Orange County Launches Rental Assistance Program, but Some Renters Face Hurdles

February 1, 2021 Updated: February 1, 2021

As Orange County began rolling out $66 million in federal relief funding for renters on Feb. 1, a local advocate called for more support for Santa Ana’s struggling residents.

“What we’ve been discussing is how inaccessible it is and how hard it is for tenants to have access to the Internet [to apply for aid],” David Carbajal, a member of Tenants United Santa Ana, told The Epoch Times.

“In order to help them more, these funds should be more easily available and more easily accessible, and right now one of the biggest barriers is that we have some tenants who applied for funds over three or four months ago, their rent is still piling, they’re still waiting,” he said. “The point that we want to make is they’re very inaccessible.”

His comments come as Orange County launched its emergency rental assistance (ERA) program Feb. 1. It will distribute about $66 million to residents affected by the pandemic who need help covering rent and utility payments. Recipients can receive up to $10,000 in funds if they meet specific income requirements.

The program, which is part of a $25 billion federal stimulus package, leaves out Irvine, Anaheim, and Santa Ana, since those cities will be launching their own rental assistance programs.

The Santa Ana Vital Eviction Solution (SAVES) program also began accepting applications Feb 1. It permits renters who have been impacted by COVID-19 and are behind on bills to apply for up to one year of aid and receive free legal and mediation services.

In Santa Ana, renters face challenges receiving aid, Carbajal said. He’s been meeting with city councilmembers, urging them to do more direct outreach in the community.

He helps renters in his coalition connect to financial aid, as many of them struggle through the application process. Tenants United Santa Ana focuses on championing local policy, such as rent control in Santa Ana.

“I’ll be bringing up at the next council meeting about how we could do more outreach to the community and letting them know that funds are available, and eliminating barriers,” he said.

Some of those hurdles include language barriers and a lack of access to resources to apply online for help. As well, many workers in Santa Ana were part of the gig economy, so they didn’t qualify for financial aid.

“We have people who were either in the service industry or the gig economy, meaning they don’t necessarily qualify for any unemployment opportunity,” Carbajal said, adding that many in the community are also undocumented, which presents its own set of challenges.

The SAVES program has the same requirements as the county’s ERA, except that renters won’t have to show documentation of citizenship. They will have to provide proof, such as an eviction notice or notification from their landlord, showing their tenancy is being eliminated.

Rental Relief

Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner said he hoped the rental relief packages would provide residents with a last push of support to carry them through the pandemic.

“Everybody’s been damaged, economically, emotionally, physically, mentally, by the pandemic,” Wagner told The Epoch Times. “What we’re hoping is that this modest relief allows people to hang on and get through the last couple of tough months until we get the vaccine rolled out, until we get a better handle on this, [and] until we can safely get stuff reopened.”

Eligible ERA residents will have to meet one or more of the benchmarks on the county’s website, which states that individuals can qualify for unemployment if: they experienced a significant reduction in income due to COVID-19, may be at risk of becoming homeless, have a total household income at or below 80 percent of the area’s median income, and assistance isn’t duplicative of any other federally funded aid.

While the county tackles the issue locally, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Jan. 29 signed SB 91 which will extend rent assistance and eviction moratorium until June 2021.

“This law not only provides greatly needed support for tenants, but also provides relief to small-property owners in need of assistance to pay for mortgages, thanks to $2.6 billion in federal stimulus funding,” Newsom said in a press release.

Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jamiewritess