March 31 was the last day renters and landlords in California could apply to the state’s emergency rental assistance program, but Fresno County and the city of Fresno residents still have time.
SB2179 was signed into law last week, extending eviction protections through June 30 for renters who have applied to the ERAP, but have not yet received the funds.
However, applications through the state program will be closed as of April 1 for both renters and landlords.
Fresno County and the city of Fresno run their own emergency rental assistance programs using state funding, but not state service providers, and can continue to accept applications beyond March 31, said Harman Singh, an ERAP lead with the Jakara Movement.
“As we’re coming to the end of California’s rent assistance program, there’s a fear that with that comes the end of all protections, but that’s not the case at all,” Singh said. “But what worries me is that folks are going to self-evict themselves, and landlords may send eviction notices.”
SB2179 also suspends local eviction moratoriums that were implemented, extended or expanded after August 2020; however, Fresno will not be affected because the city’s moratorium was implemented in March 2020 and tied to the city’s emergency ordinance, which has not been repealed.
“Local protections work, and because the city of Fresno acted early on and put these protections in place, it might mean that renters in Fresno are still covered,” said Karla Martinez with Leadership Counsel. “So we are hopeful.”
Fresno renters are not at risk of eviction for nonpayment of rent, even if they have not yet applied to ERAP, according to SB2179 guidelines.
“A lot of renters are afraid to fall behind on their rent, so they don’t,” Martinez said. “They pay their rent on time; they ask for loans from family and friends, so not having these local protections puts renters in danger, who are living day by day and have not yet applied to ERAP.”
Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza’s office and Councilmember Miguel Arias confirmed that the new state laws would not impact Fresno’s eviction moratorium or ERAP applicants who apply after April 1.
However, the city cannot implement any new eviction protection measures prior to July 1, 2022. The new law also states that landlords can file a judgment against renters who owe money between Aug. 1 and Feb. 1, 2023 regardless if a local eviction moratorium is in place, according to a letter from the City Attorney’s Office obtained by The Fresno Bee.
Mayor Jerry Dyer’s Office and the city attorney’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
As of March 24, most Fresno City Councilmembers were in support of leaving the eviction moratorium in place and pushed a workshop to lift the emergency ordinance to a further date. Only Councilmember Garry Bredefeld was in favor of the city’s emergency order.
“At our latest Council meeting, I made clear that due to the latest variant and local COVID case rates, as well as the resulting housing market, that the City Council would be extra thoughtful in any potential discussions around the lifting of our emergency declaration and its related protections,” Esparza wrote in a statement to The Bee.
How much has the city of Fresno distributed to date?
The extended protections at the state level are a result of delays in getting the ERAP funds into the hands of renters and landlords across the state, including in the city of Fresno.
To date, 33,890 have applied to Fresno’s ERAP, 30,111 have been accepted to the program, but only 3,632 applicants have received their funding.
According to the city’s annual ERAP report, 26,479 are still in the application pipeline and 616 have been approved but have not received funds. The continued ERAP protections are specifically meant for those people who have applied but are still in a backlog of applications.
Of the $67 million allocated to the city of Fresno for emergency rent and utility funds, the city has distributed $24.3 million in rent assistance and $2.4 million in utility assistance, leaving roughly $40.3 million to be distributed.
Delays in funding remain concern for renters
Sotnaya Rose, director of communications for the city of Fresno, said the average turnaround time for applicants in Fresno is two to four weeks; however, that is not always the case.
Juarez – who asked that her full name not be used for fear of jeopardizing her application for U.S. Citizenship – lives in a mobile home park in central Fresno with her husband and three daughters. The couple owns their home, but rents the space on which it sits. She applied to ERAP in early January and did not receive the funds until the second week of March.
Juarez said she and her husband, a fieldworker, had paid their rent in full on time throughout the pandemic, despite having a newborn in 2020 and her husband losing hours of work due to COVID-19. However, they constantly sacrificed to meet the $432 a month rent, not including utilities.
“We had never had this problem before,” Juarez said. “The desperation of feeling like, ‘What do I do? What do I do? Do I buy diapers or save the money for the next bill? Or do I pay the $50 fee if I pay rent late?’ It was a difficult situation.”
“You don’t know whether to buy milk for your kids or necessities that you need at that moment,” she added.
In January, the couple was going to have to borrow money from someone they knew in order to keep up with rent. Instead, they applied for the ERAP to cover three months rent in advance, which is allowed through the program. However, they didn’t receive the funds until March, and ended up paying back rent as a result.
“I was so worried,” she said. “I wasn’t sure how the property manager would react (to the delayed payment) … I figured because it was taking so long they might send me a notice asking why I’m behind.”
She said they felt left in the dark, throughout the process and unsure if they had made the right decision, or if, by applying, they put themselves at immediate risk of eviction.
Juarez said the process required a lot of documentation, something that was difficult for her and her husband to gather initially. Then, the couple was told the process was taking longer than expected due to staffing issues and a high volume of applicants.
Back in September 2021, other renters shared similar frustrations with The Bee.
How can renters and landlords apply?
To sign up for emergency rental assistance in the city of Fresno, visit fresno.gov/mayor/erap or call 559-621-6801. 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
To apply in Fresno County, visit fresnorentalhelp.com or call 559-515-4700.