LA County To Consider Shifting $20M From Affordable Housing to Rent Relief

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider a motion Tuesday to pull up to $20 million in funding earmarked for affordable housing to use it instead for rent relief.

The motion, co-authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas, is aimed at preventing a huge uptick in homelessness as a result of the coronavirus. They have asked their colleagues to relax a rule set by the board in 2015 that requires at least 75% of $100 million set aside for the Affordable Housing Programs Budget Unit be spent on new housing or renovations.

“The Affordable Housing Programs Budget Unit did not contemplate an emergency on the scale of COVID-19. While we must maintain our commitment to the production of new, and preservation of existing, affordable housing we must also respond to this emergency,'' the motion states.

Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas cite a May report by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy predicting that as many as 120,000 households with 184,000 children could find themselves unable to pay rent and evicted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UCLA study used census data and unemployment claims to estimate that nearly 450,000 people living in Los Angeles County are unemployed and not receiving unemployment benefits.

“Even before the pandemic, the number of those who were precariously housed was shocking,'' said Gary Blasi, a UCLA professor emeritus of law who authored the report. “About 600,000 people in Los Angeles County lived in households where 90% of household income was being used to pay rent.''

A moratorium on evictions is currently in force statewide, but will expire 90 days after Gov. Gavin Newsom declares the end of the COVID-19 emergency, unless earlier repealed by the state's Judicial Council. The council had planned to vote on lifting the order last week, but suspended the vote, with Chief Justice Tina Cantil-Sakauye citing the need to give state legislators time to put relevant policies in place.

The Board of Supervisors has extended a countywide eviction moratorium to at least June 30, and will reconsider the matter every 30 days thereafter.

Landlords represented by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles have sued the city of Los Angeles over its ban on evictions and rent increases, saying it violates their constitutional rights. The association said it was sympathetic to tenants suffering hardship, but that the ordinance allows even renters with the ability to pay to ignore their lease obligations.

The number of homeless people countywide had already increased 12.7% year-over-year by late January, according to the latest point-in-time count numbers released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Even before job losses related to COVID-19, county officials said the number of people losing access to housing daily was outpacing the roughly 200 people who were being housed each day in shelters, temporarily empty hotel and motel rooms and permanent supportive housing.

The LAHSA report also highlighted that Black county residents are four times as likely to be homeless. The county motion calls for rental assistance to be targeted to the lowest-income households who are the most at-risk of homelessness.

The recommendation by Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas to spend money on preventing homelessness that was originally intended to build new housing supply comes just a day after the city and county reached a settlement with the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights by agreeing to shelter and provide services for 6,000 more homeless people within 10 months. The county's commitment includes spending $300 million over five years to provide services to those 6,000 individuals.

The Kuehl/Ridley-Thomas motion does not lay out how rent relief dollars would be allocated, whether it would be paid to renters or directly to landlords, or how much any one household could be expected to receive or for how long. It calls for the details to be mapped out within 30 days by the Los Angeles County Development Authority.

Photo: Getty Images

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