Roughly six months into the city of Fresno’s emergency rental assistance program, only about 13% of qualified applicants have received rental assistance that amounts to about $7.8 million.
An additional $1.1 million has gone toward PG&E debt for 672 households in Fresno.
Thousands of applicants are still in “the pipeline” to receive funds and thousands of others have been denied assistance altogether, according to Fresno Mayor’s Office Chief of Staff Chris Montelongo.
With the statewide eviction moratorium ending Sept. 30 and roughly $32 million more for the city to distribute, here’s a breakdown of who has applied, who has qualified and who has been prioritized. This does not include data from the Housing Retention Grant Program carried out in 2020.
How much money does the city have to give?
All in all, the federal and state government has allocated around $64 million in emergency rental assistance funds to the city of Fresno, City Manager Thomas Esqueda said at the Sept. 2 city council meeting. So far, the city has received roughly $42 million of the allocation.
The ERAP, implemented in March, now provides 100% of rental debt to landlords of tenants who make less than 80% of the area median income (AMI), have been impacted by COVID-19, and are behind on their rent.
To facilitate the process, the city partnered with six community-based organizations — Reading and Beyond, the Jakara Movement, Centro la Familia, The Fresno Center, West Fresno Family Resource Center and the Education and Leadership Foundation — to help renters and landlords complete the application and distribute the money to applicants.
Here’s how the money has been split up and spent in the city:
- $750,000 has been allocated to the Fresno Eviction Protection Program.
- $500,000 was given to the Marjorie Mason Center for housing stability.
- $250,000 was given to Breaking the Chains for housing stability.
- About $7.8 million has been distributed to 1,348 renters and landlords who qualified for the ERAP. On average across the city, each applicant owes about $5,800 in rental debt.
- $1.1 million has been paid to PG&E for 672 households.
- The remaining roughly $32 million of the money the city has received has not yet been distributed. (Though a majority of those funds have been obligated to tenants who are qualified but have yet to complete the documentation and vetting process).
Who qualifies for the program?
Tenants who qualify for the program must meet the following criteria:
- The tenant must live in the city of Fresno. (Those who live outside city limits in Fresno County can apply to the Fresno County emergency rental assistance program.)
- The tenant must show proof of rental debt between April 2020 and Sept. 30.
- The tenant must attest that they have been financially impacted by COVID-19.
- The tenant must make under 80% the area median income.
What do applicants need to apply and how could that change?
The city is working toward removing barriers to the application process and documentation requirements by implementing more self-attestations, which essentially allows people to check a box certifying that they have been impacted by COVID-19 and meet other criteria.
However, as of Sept. 8, applicants will need to provide one of the following:
- 2020 tax return.
- 2020 W2 and 1099G if you were unemployed.
- Current pay stubs.
- Or proof of participation in a state or federal subsidy program such as CalFresh or CalWORKS (2020 or 2021 acceptance or renewal letter is preferred).
Tenants may also need to show a rental agreement, rental ledger or rental affidavit and a COVID-19 impact affidavit.
Renters who are applying for utility assistance, will need utility invoices or statements for unpaid utility bills.
Tenants can apply regardless of immigration status.
Who has applied for the ERAP?
As of Sept. 2, a total of 14,590 applications have been submitted to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, with applications coming in from landlords and tenants across the city.
“The assumption is that a lot of these programs really focus on the South Fresno folks but as you can see there are quite a bit of applications from across the city,” said Miguel Arias, the District 3 councilmember who serves on the city’s ERAP subcomittee.
Who has received funding to date?
Of the 14,590 applicants, 10,142 were considered to be qualified. However, only 1,348 — or 13% — of the qualified applicants have received funds as of Sept. 2.
In most districts the city has given out around $5,000 per applicant, but in areas of higher rent such as District 6, the average distributed to tenants for rental debt is much higher.
Community-based organizations that the city contracted to help renters apply and to disperse funds have also played a large part in the rollout of the program. Overall, the six partner organizations have distributed more of the rental funds than the city has directly.
Who has been denied funding?
While thousands of qualified applicants are still in the queue, many others have been outright denied.
Montelongo said in many cases applicants are denied due to improper documentation or incomplete information. The city is working toward an easier process to catch more applicants who may be falling through the cracks.
The program also fails to capture tenants who are up to date on their rent but instead fall behind on other necessities such as groceries and medical bills.
“I think one of the challenges has been making sure we sort through folks who are really in need of help versus folks who are on the verge of needing help,” Pao Yang, the CEO of the Fresno Center, said.
The city has chosen to prioritize tenants who earn less than 50% of the area’s median income and those referred from the Eviction Protection Program and Central California Legal Services. Tenants who make less than 80% of the area’s median income are next on the list of priorities.
“We really are focused on the most vulnerable,” Montelongo said. “So those that can show that they’ve been unemployed for 90 days, those that can show they make less than 50% of the AMI range, those are the ones we are targeting and making a priority.”
Following rental assistance, the city is focusing on paying PG&E debt, and exploring how to pay for internet debt.
“We will eventually get to the point where we can pay down somebody’s water, garbage and sewer backed-up bills,” Arias said, adding that the city utilities are still under a moratorium and will not be shut off for nonpayment.
According to Arias, in any given year prior to COVID-19, the city had an average of about $4 to $5 million owed in outstanding utility bills. Now, including residential and commercial customers, that debt is closer to $16 to $17 million throughout the city.
How can I apply?
Beyond the millions that have been obligated to renters in the pipeline, the city still has millions in unobligated funds for the city to distribute to renters in need.
“The end goal here is to prevent people from getting evicted,” said Harman Singh, ERA project manager of Jakara Movement
Tenants can also visit or call the following organizations to apply:
- Reading and Beyond: 559-214-0317
- The Fresno Center: 559-898-2565
- Centro La Familia: 559-237-2961
- Education & Leadership Foundation: 559-291-5428
- Jakara Movement: 559-549-4088
- West Fresno Family Resource Center: 559-621-2967
Fresnoland wants to hear from renters and landlords who have applied to the ERAP. Were you given funds? Were you denied? Was it helpful? Text reporter Cassandra Garibay at 559-441-6004 to share. Or fill out the renter survey or landlord survey here.