LA City Council Approves Funding for Renter Legal Defense Program


    US-HEALTH-VIRUS-RENT-HOUSING

    US-HEALTH-VIRUS-RENT-HOUSING

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously today to authorize the use of more than $10.4 million for an emergency legal defense program to protect renters from eviction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “The laws of the city of Los Angeles are on the tenants' side,'' Council President Nury Martinez said, adding the city will also fund an education campaign to make tenants aware of the legal services.

    “Many of the people that we are serving are absolutely desperate and scared to lose their housing, and we need to do everything possible to be able to assist them,'' Martinez said. “With the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction Defense Program, we'll be able to work together ... to make sure that folks stay housed.''

    Martinez and Councilman Mitch O'Farrell co-introduced the proposal in August and Councilman Paul Koretz also signed on.

    About $8.5 million of the fund will come through federal CARES Act money the city has received, and nearly $2 million will come from a renters' legal defense fund established last year in response to a state rent control law.

    With the funds, the city will contract with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles to assist the city's COVID Response Emergency Defense program for up to $7.1 million for one year. Eight of the city's FamilySource Centers located in areas identified as having the greatest need for free local services

    will also assist people with their legal defense efforts.

    The program is intended for low-income residents who could not pay their rent due to the pandemic, and it is expected to launch sometime in December, Martinez said, but renters will be able to seek legal information now if they are being threatened with an unlawful eviction during the city and state moratorium.

    Ann Sewill, the general manager of the city's Housing and Community Investment Department, said an average of 15,000 people face evictions each year in Los Angeles -- but that was before the pandemic, and she said the current situation is much more dire.

    “Having access to legal support when facing a possible eviction can make the difference between the tenant being able to rely on the rights that had been established in our city ordinances and state legislation or not,'' Sewill said. “It can make the difference between having the ability to find a new apartment and move or homelessness.''

    HCIDLA staff said they will debut the program virtually and hope to offer in-person services when it is safe to do so. Those facing eviction notices during the pandemic can visit the HCIDLA website at hcidla.lacity.org, or call 866-557-7368 for more information.

    Los Angeles implemented a 12-month rent payback period in March, which would begin after the Safer at Home orders are lifted, as well as an eviction moratorium. However, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a five-month extension in August to measures aimed at preventing tenants from being evicted for missing rent due to hardships caused by COVID-19, and that bill -- AB 3088 -- supersedes local authority, council members said.

    Although the City Council in August voted to extend the emergency COVID-19 orders -- which include the eviction moratorium -- through the end of September, California courts are expected to accept filings for evictions.

    The council on Tuesday voted in favor of a resolution seeking to further extend the emergency orders.

    Rick Coca, a spokesperson for Martinez, said landlords could still file for the proceedings even though the city's law keeps action from happening through September.

    The council members in their motion said they expect a “swell of unlawful detainers'' related to eviction proceedings as the courts reopen.

    According to a report published in late May by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, at least 365,000 households in Los Angeles County were in jeopardy of losing their homes once protections end.

    “This City Council continues to do more than any other municipality in the country to protect renters during the COVID-19 pandemic,'' O'Farrell said. “... We are ensuring that anyone who may be facing an unlawful eviction will have the necessary legal counsel, paid by the city, to help keep people in their homes during this crisis.''

    The City Council approved several emergency measures in March intended to help people through the coronavirus pandemic, including the halt on residential and commercial evictions, requiring paid sick leave for certain employees and protections for people who are working for businesses deemed essential.

    Photo: Getty Images