Contra Costa County leaders recently allocated about $4.2 million in federal funds toward housing assistance organizations as the impacts of the ongoing pandemic rage on.
About $3.2 million have been directed to local nonprofit SHELTER, Inc. to provide emergency COVID-19-related rental assistance, with $600,000 in additional funds going to fellow nonprofit ECHO Housing to provide pandemic-associated tenant/landlord counseling and related legal services.
The county will use the remaining money for general program administration.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently allocated the funds to the county to prevent, prepare and respond to the COVID-19 epidemic and its effects.
The county’s unemployment rate — just 3.1% in February — shot up to 7.9% in October, according to the latest available data released by the California Employment Development Department.
“We are trying to keep people in their homes,” District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis said.
SHELTER, Inc. is expected to use about $2.56 million of the funds for direct rent or utility payment assistance for eligible households, with an estimated $640,000 dedicated to application evaluation and marketing and outreach efforts.
Prospective tenants seeking direct rent assistance must meet a series of qualifications, including being part of a very low-, low- or moderate-income household with documented proof of COVID-19-related financial distress.
Meanwhile, nonprofit ECHO Housing will apply its $600,000 toward tenant/landlord counseling and related legal services for COVID-19-affected tenant households.
It’s expected that the funds will allow the organization to quickly subcontract with nonprofit legal services provider Centro Legal de la Raza and fund four to six attorneys and one to two paralegals for that organization.
ECHO Housing officials also envision that the money will fund one additional ECHO Housing-based paralegal or housing counselor and cover outreach and marketing efforts.
“Statutory law determines all housing rights in California, so tenants have a very hard time negotiating, working through or enforcing their rights,” said a Centro Legal de la Raza managing attorney during public comment. “The only mechanism to enforce your rights is through the courtroom.”
County leaders said the direct rental assistance provided by SHELTER, Inc. will support people seeking eviction protection under Assembly Bill 3088, which outlaws evictions for unpaid rent from March through August this year or from September 2020 through Jan. 31, 2021, if tenants provide a COVID-19-related financial distress declaration and pay at least 25% of all rental payments due during that September to January time frame.
“The amount of rent paid by SHELTER, Inc. will be enough that the entire amount paid to the landlord is equal to at least 25% of the rent due for September of this year through January 2021,” said county planner Gabriel Lemus. “Once this amount is paid to the landlord, the tenant will be protected from eviction under AB 3088.”
A number of nonprofit advocacy organizations applauded the county’s move to provide needy residents with additional COVID-19-related help.
“The rental assistance program is thoughtfully designed to complement the protections of AB 3088, ensuring that households impacted by COVID will be able to keep a roof over their heads as we move into the winter months,” said Alex Werth, a policy associate with East Bay Housing Organizations. “The legal service program will greatly expand access to direct legal representation for low-income families.”
District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff added that the direct rent assistance program benefits both tenants and landlords.
“When this money is used for a tenant, it thereby helps the landlord,” she said.
For more information about the programs, or other COVID-19 related resources, visit https://www.contracosta.ca.gov/7773/COVID-19-Resources.
For more information about SHELTER, Inc., visit shelterinc.org.
For more information about ECHO Housing, visit www.echofairhousing.org.