California Rent Relief: How Not to Provide Emergency Rent Relief

Organizers from the South Central local of the Los Angeles Tenants Union were descending on Exposition Park, their arms full of tablets, laptops and smartphones. It was the evening of April 13, 2021, and as senior and immigrant tenants watched on, the young volunteers connected the park to the internet via a Wi-Fi hotspot. Then the tenants did what they couldn’t do at home: They applied for pandemic rent relief from the state of California.

When low income tenants faced eviction across the state, the primary way to stave it off was through online application to the state’s Emergency Renters Assistance Program (ERAP), which was charged with distributing more than $2.6 billion in rent relief to tenants with additional funds distributed by cities and counties. However, tenant organizers say the program was never going to succeed as it was structured, in large part because applying for relief was only possible with an internet connection and an email address, blocking thousands of the most vulnerable renters in California from paying back their debts.

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