Millions of California homeowners, first time home buyers, renters and small landlords are currently facing threats of foreclosure, getting evicted or not being able to afford a home. Though people feel they have nowhere to turn, free housing counseling is available across the state of California, said housing advocates, at a March 17 news briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services, co-hosted with California Black Media.
They emphasized that this help comes from real people rather than complex online applications,
The free advice comes as a lifeline to the 721,000 families in California who owe more than $3.3 billion in back rent, as of January this year.
“The majority of people in California are rent burned, meaning they pay more than 50% of their income towards rent and do not speak English as a first language,” said Eric Johnson, Information Officer for CA Housing Finance Agency (HFA).
Most people who need help aren’t getting the message because they don’t understand English, he added. “About 36% of them speak Spanish, 4% speak Chinese and 12% speak another language.”
“A lot of these are mom and pop renters,” noted Johnson.To ease this situation, the National Mortgage Settlement Counseling Program in California has allocated $75 million to help people get free counseling at HUD-approved housing counseling agencies around the state.
“If there are counselors asking for money, please don’t go to them as they are fraud,” warned Johnson. “Please talk to a HUD approved counselor as the help is free.”
In-language services are currently available from 76 different counseling agencies and more than 217 housing counselors at the following websites –
“The website hooks you up in two ways – you call, and someone will help you out and the website also has a list of counseling agencies in California,” said Johnson.
Counselors can provide in person and phone consultation on questions about rent, mortgages, foreclosures, and first-time homeownership, Johnson added. Up to 23,000 families have been helped and additional funds are available to help more. Just by applying, families can get rent relief beginning with the pandemic, and even a partial application is accepted explained Johnson.
“But it is important to remember is that the deadline to apply for Emergency Rental Assistance Program in California is March 31, 2022. So please apply as fast as you can,” he urged.
Linda Jackson, Executive Director of Inland Empire Resource Center, explained that rental relief was available for both tenants and landlords, but that landlords would have to consent to all information documented by tenants
“To ensure there is no fraud, a tenant has to be living in the rental space and money distributed will go to the landlord who will distribute it to the tenant,” said Jackson. HFA’s California Mortgage Relief Program offers grants for homeowners who need help with back rent.
“The grant means you don’t pay it back and the government is doing this because we have never been in this situation before.
To qualify for mortgage relief, applicants have to be two months behind in payments, can get a loan modification and do not have to show documentation.”
“You can get help up to $80,000 with back mortgage payments which is all Covid related,” said Jackson.
Rental assistance intake forms are available at https://camortgagerelief.org/, and Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA), a non-profit law firm, provides advocacy for people needing help with housing issues and facing discrimination due to age, race, sex, or disability.
Toni Stovall faced eviction after falling behind in rent payments during the pandemic, but she was grateful for help from the Inland Empire counseling agency.
“I have never seen so many people invested in you getting the funds approved,” she said. “But you have to have patience with the program. Since I have been approved, I have referred many to Inland.”
For California residents, the deadline to apply for Pandemic Housing Relief is March 31,2022.