Low-income California residents could see unpaid rent accrued during the coronavirus pandemic entirely paid off as part of a $5.2 billion program that’s reportedly being considered in the state Legislature.
The proposal, which is currently being finalized, would cover select residents’ outstanding bills using unused federal pandemic relief money allocated to the state. Residents’ unpaid water and electricity bills may also be covered under a $2 billion proposal, The New York Times reported.
The total money being considered appears to be more than enough to cover unpaid rent across the state, Jason Elliott, senior counselor to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on housing and homelessness, told The Associated Press.
Residents would need to earn no more than 80% of their area’s median income to qualify and would have to prove pandemic-related financial hardship.
News of the plan comes just days before state and federal eviction moratoriums are set to expire. These moratoriums, which end on June 30, do not cancel past-due rent. They only protect certain renters from being evicted from failure to pay.
California does already have a COVID-19 rent relief program in play that’s designed to help tenants pay a portion of their past-due rent. It also reimburses landlords for a portion of rent money owed to them. When this rent relief program was first opened to residents in March, there were an estimated 1.5 million people behind on rent in the state, according to the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which is overseeing the program.
There have been complaints and concerns about the program’s ability to provide financial relief in a timely manner, however. As of Monday morning, only about 8% of the $619 million in rental assistance requests received by the program have been paid, BCSH spokesman Russ Heimerich told the Times.
Newsom is reportedly meeting with local lawmakers to discuss potentially extending the state’s eviction moratorium for a second time. The federal moratorium has already been twice extended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention out of concern that evicting people amid the pandemic could put them at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 due to people moving into close quarters in shared housing.
Democrats on Monday sent a letter to President Joe Biden and the CDC’s director urging them to extend the federal moratorium beyond its deadline to prevent what they fear will be “a historic wave of evictions.”
Nationwide, there are more than 7 million American households behind on their rent, according to figures collected last month by the U.S. Census Bureau.
A representative with Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment Tuesday.