Fresno City Hall photo by Breanna Hardy
Written by Edward Smith
With only three months before eviction moratoriums end, the City of Fresno still has 90% of its applications to process. One community leader who has participated in distributing those funds says at the rate applications are being processed, there won’t be enough time before the newly approved June 30 deadline.
“I am expecting and hoping the City will extend that date because it is not enough, especially because how long it takes to get the application approved,” said Luis Santana, executive director of Reading and Beyond, one of the six community-based organizations the City of Fresno contracted with to administer rental assistance.
The City of Fresno released data on its Emergency Rental Assistance Program Thursday showing that of the 19,423 applications accepted, only 3,632 have been funded — roughly 18.7% of total applications. Statewide, the funding rate was 44% of applications with 223,103 of 506,796 funded.
The processing rate for Tulare County was 48%, 41.5% for Kings and 48% for Madera, though application volume for those counties do not come close to the numbers for the City of Fresno. A representative with RH Community Builders, which is handling the program for the County of Fresno, was not able to get data back in time on the Cesar Chavez Day holiday.
Governments with populations of more than 200,000 were given the option of administering their own rental assistance programs. Tulare County, with 466,195 people as of 2019, opted to have the State of California’s Housing and Community Development agency run their program.
There were a total of 33,890 applications in the City of Fresno, of which 3,775 were duplicates or had substantial amounts of missing information. Another 10,692 applications were disqualified, according to Chris Montelongo, deputy chief of staff for the City of Fresno.
Montelongo said one thing that separates the City of Fresno from other jurisdictions has been the volume of applications.
Tulare County had 7,776 applications, Madera had 1,610 applications and Kings had 2,328 applications.
Staff has also been limited. When the program started, they only had one supervisor and five or six clerks, Montelongo said. And like every other jurisdiction, they had to go through training and make sure they knew the different guidelines and protocols.
Now, there are 32 employees working on the program, with eight full-time employees. Three of those eight employees are working the program 50% of the time, split between that and the Finance Department. The other 24 employees are temporary employees.
The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was supposed to last until funds run out. Applications for the State of California will end Thursday at midnight. Montelongo said Fresno will have $67 million for the program, of which just under $30 million has been spent. They will accept applications even if they exceed the $67 million but they will place them on a waitlist in case more funding becomes available.
With the March 31 deadline came the moratorium on evictions due to nonpayment of rent. In the 11th hour, legislators approved extending that date to June 30, with July 1 being the first date landlords can file unlawful detainers because of nonpayment of rent. That leaves only three months for the City to process the remaining 88% of applications, which began pouring in March 2021.
Santana thinks the reason the City of Fresno has fallen behind has to do with the population it serves.
“I’m not knowledgeable enough to confirm that but here is my suspicion — I think maybe the people who are applying through the state are a little more educated, more qualified,” Santana said. “We work really with a very low education population.”
The most difficult part of getting money for people behind on rent has been getting the proper documentation.
Renters have to demonstrate they were affected by Covid, why they were affected by Covid and that they are below 80% of the area median income.
“We are talking about people who are really struggling in many different directions and they were already struggling before,” Santana said.
People seeking help often waited until landlords were sending notices.
“This is a reality of the people we serve,” Santana said.
Montelongo echoed many of those same sentiments, saying the hardest part has been missing documentation from applicants.
Santana praises the City for working with residents to expand qualifications for being affected by Covid. Those with children who stayed at home had to pay more for either childcare or food they would have gotten at school. Receiving CalFresh or other social programs also qualifies applicants to demonstrate they are making less than 80% of area median income.
Santana says marketing and outreach could have better in letting people know what they needed to qualify and what documents they need.
Once the application is sent in and filled out, it could take two months to receive a check when the whole process should take not much more than a week, Santana said.
Santana also wishes outreach for landlords would have been better. Getting full benefits does require landlord participation and Santana says a better job could have been done educating landlords. Landlords have presented a significant barrier to the process, he said.
The City did work to make the undertaking more streamlined. Online applications on the City website were effective, he said.
Montelongo echoed many of those same sentiments, saying the hardest part has been missing documentation from applicants. The City of Fresno has also been working to identify fraudulent applications. Montelongo said they have seen applicants who are not tenants or landlords applying to get funds.
Montelongo says because they’ve been able to expand capacity as a team, he is confident they can process the remainder of applications to make sure people stay in their homes.