Tag Archives: #AMI

Desi Landlord & Tenants In An Eviction Headlock

Suresh Wadhwani, a Bay Area landlord was surprised by the ruling that allowed his tenants to break their contract with him. They could pay no rent and he was not able to evict them due the pandemic.

California’s Covid-19 rent relief program, Housing Is Key provides protections for renters who are given an eviction notice because they are unable to pay their rent or other charges between March 1, 2020 through September 2021 due to COVID-19-related financial distress. 

“I invested in California in good faith as there was a housing shortage. I took loans and bought properties for low-income residents to live in. Now I am in the position that my conduit loan has come due but my bank refuses to extend loans to me,” he said. 

Wadhwani does not qualify for a loan. He does not meet the risk guidelines of the bank. Forty percent of his tenants are defaulting on rent payments. 

“We have banked with Chase for years but the underwriter is hamstrung by the bank’s guidelines for loan disbursement. My company is now considered a high-risk investment, ” said Wadhwani. He will have to do a fire sale of his property or go into receivership.

At first, only ten percent of his tenants were defaulting on their rent payments but news soon spread and the tenant defaulting percentage climbed up from 10 -20 to 40 percent. Wadhwani is stumped. His contract with the bank stands but he feels his contract with the tenant is not worth the paper it is written on.

As of August 26, landlords are no longer barred from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent because of the pandemic. The Supreme Court blocked the extension of the federal eviction moratorium. However, California is governed by state laws. California’s rent relief program, Housing Is Key stays

In California, this moratorium on evictions is in place till September according to the governor’s office. Tenants who have notified their landlord that they have been financially affected by COVID-19 and are paying at least 25% of their rent per month are safe from eviction till September.

To be eligible for aid, tenants must make less than 80% of the local median income. Median income varies from county to county. The aid takes into account the number of people living in the tenant’s household. In order to prove their eligibility, the tenants can provide documentation, like a recent pay stub or a termination letter, however, it is not required.  As long as they attest in writing that they have been impacted, that is sufficient. They can demonstrate housing instability or risk of homelessness by showing they owe back rent or have an overdue utility bill.

The assistance is available to all renters who meet the eligible income levels, regardless of whether they are legal residents or not. Citizenship status is not a requirement to access rent relief. 

Housing Is Key  provides Emergency Rental Assistance funds to low-income renters and their landlords. The bill expands eligibility even in cases where the tenant may have moved out of their home during the pandemic. The landlord can now apply for back rent. Read more at evictionlab.org 

Wadhwani admits he is getting money from the government for which he has had to file extensive paperwork. Additionally up until June, in order to file the paperwork he had needed to handhold the tenant without whose co-operation and signature the documents could not be filed. Some tenants played hardball and a previously cordial relationship between landlord and tenant has now turned adversarial.

Landlords could look for excuses to remove tenants for cause. They can make a case that the tenant has damaged the property or is making a nuisance in order to evict the tenant. This situation could be encouraging landlords to file complaints with the city for building code violations alleging that the infractions were made by the tenant. 

For instance, the Sunnyvale city office has received letters reporting garbage behind the building owned by Mamie Dairiki on El Camino Real in Sunnyvale.  After an inspection, the city found building code violations in the units. Struggling small businesses (Mamie Dairiki’s tenants), have to pay for the rectifications to meet city requirements. One tenant, Vidya Gurikar of Silver Spoon, a gourmet food caterer who has been hard hit by the pandemic, may have to fork out over $30,000 towards fixing these violations. 

Vidya Gurikar of Silver Spoon

“These changes, made without a permit, were made before we leased this place!” said Gurikar. “It is Pandora’s box. I pay to fix one thing only to find that the city has found another thing built without a permit. The new directives from the city office are crippling,” said a panic-stricken Gurikar who is desperately looking for a way out of this nightmare.

“People have been evicted in retaliation for reporting their landlord or for their children testing positive for lead poisoning,” said Dr. Shawnita Sealy-Jefferson, Principal Investigator and Leader, Social Epidemiology to Eliminate Disparities (SEED) Lab, Ohio State University at a recent Ethnic Media Services panel on the housing crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. “Having someone occupy the rental unit who is not on the rent agreement is cause for eviction. People have been evicted for bogus accusations of damage to the property, damage that would be considered normal wear and tear,” she said. 

“When I have 40 percent of my tenants defaulting,” said Wadhwani, “I can’t possibly make a case for eviction against each tenant on these grounds.” 

After September 30, landlords may be able to proceed with evictions as long as they can prove that they or their tenants have attempted to apply for rent relief.  They must show that they didn’t receive a response on their application from either the state or their tenant, or their tenant doesn’t qualify or meet the income requirements.

Wadhwani thinks that California will extend the eviction moratorium.

“We call on state and local jurisdictions to take every action they can to safeguard their most vulnerable residents. These actions should include permitting evictions for non-payment of rent only after landlords and tenants have sought Emergency Rental Assistance funds,” said Secretary Marcia L. Fudge on the Eviction Moratorium.

California has a rental assistance program in place to pay landlords the rent due. Only 10% of the total aid that people have applied for has been disbursed. The state has distributed only $37.4 million in relief to a little more than 31,641 households so far, an average of $11,844 per household (see Dashboard). The disbursement of $5.2 billion in federal funds earmarked for it, has gone slowly in order to ensure that no duplicate payments are made.  

“Some jurisdictions are not getting the amount of rental assistance that they need to cover the needs of their community,” Francisco Duenas, Executive Director, Housing Now! California said at the Ethnic Media Services briefing. In Los Angeles, the program opened only for one month. More requests were received than the funds allocated. Tenants who missed that window could not apply anywhere. 

“Right now the problem is not that there is no money to help the tenant and the landlords. The problem is administration and bureaucracy, just the processes to get that money out to the people,” said Duenas.

Tenants can apply for emergency rental assistance. If they qualify, the tenant or landlord will receive 100% of the rental debt and the eviction will be stopped, according to the latest California moratorium bill. This will continue to be an option until March 2022. Read more at evictionlab.org

Over 2 million renter households in California reported “little to no confidence” in their ability to pay next month’s rent, according to the latest Household Pulse Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“These tenants don’t need to show any proof of their inability to pay. On the other hand, no bank is going to give me a loan if I have on my record that I defaulted on my loan payment,” said a harried Wadhwani.

“Many tenants will move out because they don’t want an eviction on their record as it will limit their chance of getting housing in the future,” said Francisco Duenas.

Both the landlord and tenant are bound in a headlock of survival. California’s shortage of affordable housing is the real loser in the process. 

“I am wary of taking a risk in the California housing market. I may look at investing in Reno, Nevada,” said Wadhwani.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.


Don’t Lose the Roof Over Your Head In Alameda County

Not only has COVID-19 taken a toll on the nation’s health, but it threatens housing security for the most vulnerable amongst us.

Studies show that housing hardships have increased significantly among low income, ethnic minority households in rental properties. Thousands of households across the country are reporting higher evictions as they fall behind on rental and utility payments following job and income losses.

As the Delta variant prolongs the pandemic and exacerbates the affordable housing crisis, a disproportionate number of households of color fear being forced out of their homes.

“We are at an inflection point in the COVID crisis,” said Odette Alcazaren-Keeley of Global X Media, which hosted a briefing (August 18) on pervasive housing disparities and on rent relief, with policymakers and community leaders from Alameda County.

In the Bay Area, minority communities were already experiencing a severe housing crisis pre-pandemic; 46% of black, 45% of Latinx, and of 42% of native American households were rent-burdened and housing insecure prior to COVID, said Monique Berlanga of CentroLegal de la Raza, at the briefing. Seven in ten white households own their homes, but majority of minority households are renters, said Berlanger, calling it “a staggering statistic.”

“Right now, people of color households make up 64% of household that are behind on rent.”

In Alameda County the pandemic and its economic fallout has exposed systemic disparities in housing inequities.

Parween Towfique, a program manager at Keep Fremont Housed who works with the Afghan Coalition to offer housing and rental services to Fremont’s South Asian and Afghan communities, said that the pandemic severely impacted many in the Afghan community who lost housing due to the Bay Area’s high rents and cost of living.

The situation was further complicated by a surge of Afghan refugees currently housed in Oakland, who are hoping to relocate to Fremont, but Towfique admitted that it was “a challenge to get them into Fremont’s low-income housing.”

Housing advocates said that collaborating with community partners like Towfique is key to ensuring that rent relief gets to those vulnerable residents who need it the most.

As housing inequality worsened, the US Treasury made federal funding available through ERAP to state and local governments to help households facing deep rental debt.  In CA, the Rent Relief program provides financial assistance to income-eligible California renters who are unable to pay rent or utilities, and their landlords.


What AMI does

Eligibility for funding depends on Area Median Income (AMI) – a metric calculated by HUD for different geographic areas of the country, based on household income and size; sometimes SSI and disability factor into the equation.  Income thresholds and eligibility can vary by county and city.

In California, the local jurisdictions of Alameda County, Oakland, and Fremont administer different rent relief programs based on AMI rates specifically calculated for their region.

This can get confusing for residents, especially limited English speakers. Quite often, residents have no way of knowing how to access the system and available resources, let alone navigate the eligibility requirements and documents required to process an application.

The slow ERAP roll out in Alameda County due to pandemic restrictions and inadequate staffing has confused and frustrated residents awaiting approval, said advocates.

Anayantzin Amezcua, an ERAP beneficiary and domestic violence survivor who lost her job because of COVID-19, said her application took three months to complete, and two months to get approval.

Advocates and community allies at the briefing reaffirmed their goal to provide a pivotal safety net for vulnerable populations – particularly low-income households, communities of color, immigrant tenants and landlords who are experiencing housing distress due to COVID-19. They emphasized that their immediate priority was to expand access and resources to the rent relief program, serving those with the greatest needs more effectively and at a faster rate.


How to Apply for  ERAP

Acknowledging that the roll out has been challenging, Alameda Housing Secure (AHS) hopes to make the program more equitable and accessible through a consortium of 24 trusted community partners that includes CentroLegal de la Raza, the Eviction Defense Center and the Afghan Coalition, among others.

CentroLegal has set up a portal that efficiently uploads and processes applications. A landlord or tenant can initiate an application downloaded from website, phone (calling 211) or on paper (by calling CentroLegal) for help with completing and submitting applications. Accessibility features include web-based information in multiple languages, paper applications in 16-20 languages, and  increased disability access by mail and by phone.

By tripling staff, the aim is to scale up the volume of funding going out the door, said Jennifer Pearce, Deputy Director of Housing at Alameda County.

Berlanga of CentroLegal emphasized that the program is prioritized for people most in need and not administered on a ‘first come first served basis.’

An application in Hindi


Who Is Eligible?

A prioritization tools allows AHS to prioritize extremely low-income people at 30% or lower median AMI to live in subsidized affordable housing, as well as tenants living in properties owned by mom and pop landlords who own five units or less.

A secondary prioritization which will continue through Phases 1 and 2, uses metrics to identify the most vulnerable community members – people with disabilities, many children in the home, those who have experienced homelessness, or who have recently entered the community, seniors on fixed incomes,  single parents, veterans, people of color and the undocumented as well as people who live in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Under the federal program, people who earn less than 80% of AMI can apply for ERAP. Both renters and landlords can apply for assistance, and “anyone qualifying to up to 80% of AMI should apply,” said Pearce, so their application enters the queue to be processed.

Alameda county residents who pay rent on a residential dwelling (excluding Oakland / Fremont) are eligible to apply. Households had to have experienced COVID-19 related financial hardship, and combined household income cannot exceed 80% of AMI. Undocumented residents can apply and are not required to prove citizenship. Seniors on fixed incomes and those at risk of experiencing homelessness may need proof; eligibility requirements are available at https://www.ac-housingsecure.org

In keeping with low barrier to entry, applicants do not need all documentation in place before applying, said Berlanga. The verification process will only begin after submission to ensure applicants obtain key documents such a government-issued photo id (consular id, library card, birth certificate), proof of residency and rent amount owed, current pretax household income and loss of income due to COVID-19. CentroLegal will work with applicants to obtain documentation if they have none.

Tenants are only eligible for financial assistance for 12 months of rental arrears and 3 months of future rent. Tenants do not have to be behind in rent to apply. If a tenant has borrowed money or is ‘financially exhausted’ they can apply for up to 3 months of future rent assistance.

To date, Alameda County has approved almost $12 and half million dollars in financial assistance to those facing deep rental debt. As of August 16, about 827 of 5400 + applications have been approved, and nearly $750 thousand dispersed per week on average.  Pearce said each household has received an average of $15 thousand dollars to cover up to twelve months of back rent, three months of forward rent, and back utilities.  In the last week, the Eviction Defense Center – a key community partner – has assisted more than 60% of approved applications, confirmed Eric Magana, an outreach coordinator at EDC. He encouraged landlords to respond quickly to calls so the application process can move along rapidly.

The goal is to increase capacity to $2 million dollars a week, said Pearce.

She warned residents about accepting calls purporting to be from ERAP, and emphasized that Alameda County Housing does not call asking for personal data or social security numbers. The county uses a two-part verification system to safeguard against fraudulent applications and vet applications against the county’s property ownership database.


ERAP in Fremont & Oakland

Fremont’s ERAP program for constituents runs through the Fremont Family Resource Center and uses a community-based approach to connect with its very diverse community, where upwards of 40% of households are non-English speaking.

In collaboration with four community partners, including the Afghan Coalition, Fremont connects with people by texting, office hours at the local library, and providing language assistance in up to 8 additional languages including Hindi and Punjabi. Nearly 500 applications have been processed and almost $7.1 million dollars disbursed at roughly  $13 thousand per application.

Fremont prioritizes applicants at 80% AMI but its portal is only for tenants, not landlords,  said Paula Manczuk-Hannay of the City of Fremont.

Fremont works closely with the county to coordinate messaging and directs queries to links to other county & state websites as appropriate. Users can access a portal and phone numbers through https://fremont.gov/keepfremonthoused, for live help from the resource center and language assistance to process applications.

Oakland, a proud sanctuary city, will not ask for documentation of  immigration status when processing ERAP applications, stated Cookie Robles Wong from the City of Oakland. Community partners like the Glad Tidings Church, have helped with outreach added volunteer Marilyn Thurman, getting the word out by distributing flyers through neighborhoods, stores, e-blasts, Bible studies, and covid testing corps.

The Oakland program only prioritizes households at 30% AMI and below due to high demand from households in that range. To date Oakland has approved 852 applications; residents in Zip codes 94601 and 94621 have received highest level of assistance as they were most impacted by COVID-19, said Wong. Oakland has approved nearly 74% of a little over $7.5 million received in ERAP1 funds; households received an average of $9000 in assistance for utilities, rent arrears and prospective rent. Due to a surge in volume, the program has stopped accepting applications as of May 17, 2021, and tenants (30%+ AMI) are being directed to California’s Rent Relief Program in the interim. The portal will reopen in the fall with an additional $19.00 million from Federal funds and $10 million from the state.


Eviction Moratoriums in Alameda

Though an eviction moratorium is in place, CentroLegal documented a 70% increase in complaints from tenants experiencing harassment, retaliation and legal lockouts in the county because they are behind on rent .

However, Alameda County has one of the strongest moratoriums on eviction in the Bay Area and one of lowest eviction rates  in the region. Advocates offered reassurances that  the county will protect people from COVID impacts and inability to pay rent for the foreseeable future. The moratorium will stay in place for 60 days after the end of current health emergency is declared over by a public health officer – which differs from confirmed state and federal dates. The county is working to implement a state eviction moratorium which disallows unlawful actions from going forward once an ERAP application is already in the system, even if eviction moratorium has expired.

Alameda is bolstering its rent relief program by rapidly expanding its network of community organizations to work on outreach and help people with applications and information.

But advocates called for patience. “Together we can go really far,” said Cookie Robles Wong, but she cautioned, “We are in a pandemic. We are in a new program, and we are learning as we are building it to tweak it as we go along.”

Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents