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The Beverly Hills City Council unanimously voted to move forward with instituting a rent subsidy program at its Sept. 15 formal meeting, but stopped short of finalizing details for how the program would be administered or how much money will ultimately be provided. The initial amount of approximately $715,000 approved for the program, which will be payable as a rent subsidy directly to qualified landlords, is anticipated to grow in the coming months, although staff has not yet determined just where the additional funds will come from.
Tuesday’s vote authorized that $442,935 be allocated from Community Development Block Grant funds and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act reimbursements for rent subsidy payments to qualified landlords on behalf of qualified tenants financially impacted by COVID-19. Staff anticipated that an additional $272,000 would be available for rent subsidies by the end of this year or at the latest, June 2021, as a result of $101,000 in additional CDBG funds the city is slated to receive from the county for rental assistance and $171,000 it will receive from the Westside Cities Council of Governments for homelessness prevention. Both tenants and landlords have separate qualification criteria.
“This is going to be a lifeline to people who need it, and I really think it shows the kind of community we are,” Councilman John Mirisch said.
Per the staff report, which was authored by Director of Community Development Susan Healy Keene and Deputy Director of Rent Stabilization Helen Morales, the rent subsidy program will be exclusively for qualified COVID-19 financially impacted tenants residing in Beverly Hills units subject to the city’s rent stabilization ordinance. City council members further directed staff to prioritize seniors and households with children registered in the Beverly Hills Unified School District (42% of BHUSD enrollment reside in RSO units).
Originally proposed by Vice Mayor Bob Wunderlich in June, the city’s plan to subsidize residential tenants unable to pay rent due to circumstances related to COVID-19 mirrors what other renter-majority municipalities, including West Hollywood, have done in an attempt to allow people to remain in their homes. In July, the city of Los Angeles enacted an emergency rental assistance program which allocated $103 million of CARES Act funds for a residential rent subsidy for Los Angeles multifamily tenants. As part of that program, which is forecast to help 50,000 L.A. households, there is a maximum monthly subsidy of $1,000, with a household maximum of $2,000 for tenants who are at or below 80% of the area median income.
In moving forward with a monthly subsidy payment of the balance of unpaid rent up to $1,000, for a maximum period of three months, staff estimated that Beverly Hills would be able to assist 238 eligible households. According to Morales, the average rent in the city is $2,670.
“Many of the four surrounding local jurisdictions’ rent subsidy programs have common elements,” the staff report stated. “Three of the four programs are administered through a nonprofit, third-party contract (city of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and West Hollywood). Both the city of Los Angeles and Santa Monica use the HUD low income limits, which is 80% of area median income, to qualify a tenant for a rent subsidy. All four programs make rent-subsidy payments directly to landlords through third party contracts and require proof of tenancy and documentation to establish loss or reduction in income related to COVID-19.”
As part of the agenda item, staff had recommended that the city enter into a not-to-exceed $98,527 contract with Jewish Family Services to administer the rent subsidy program. However, council members told staff that the administration cost was too high and subsequently authorized City Manager George Chavez to oversee negotiations to reduce that contract amount.
Last month, the county of Los Angeles enacted its own rent relief program, allocating $100 million of CARES Act funding to renters in the county financially impacted by COVID-19. This program includes all residents in the county, excluding only residents of the city of Los Angeles, which implemented its own rent subsidy program. Households with income currently at 30% of the median income can receive up to $10,000 and households currently at 50% of the median income can receive up to $7,500. To share this information, the Beverly Hills Rent Stabilization Division sent an email on Aug. 11 to all tenants who had filed a COVID-19 form by email and all registered landlords. Households who receive a subsidy from the county’s rent relief program will be ineligible for the city’s program.
Morales said that 197 Beverly Hills tenants have filled out the city’s COVID-19 form, but she anticipated that number would increase. Of those applicants, she said that 24% were paying no rent, with the majority paying at least 50% of their rent.
“People will need it more as they’re unable to pay rent as rent becomes due,” she said. “When those people are experiencing evictions, we can help them to not be.”
Landlords who participate in Beverly Hills’ rent subsidy program will have the money paid directly to them by the city with the understanding that they will not evict the tenant for the next year.
“We as a council are unanimously looking for more than the $714,000 that’s being proposed today,” Councilwoman Lili Bosse said. “I’m hoping that we’ll be able to find some more money.”
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