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Homeless Numbers Could Go Up After COVID Crisis Rent Moratoriums Lifted, Says City Housing Chief

Published on Wednesday, September 16, 2020 | 2:12 pm

There have been numerous assistance programs initiated over the past six months to help keep people safe at home and financially stable during the novel coronavirus crisis.

From grant allocations for restaurants and arts organizations to continue operating to rental assistance programs and rent moratoriums for families trying to make ends meet, it seems all that can be done is being done, with city, county, state, and federal officials stepping up efforts to give residents and businesses a fighting chance to survive in the face of government shutdowns, business closures, and mass layoffs since mid-March.

But some, concerned that many people will have no job waiting for them as they emerge from government-imposed isolation, wonder: What then?

“The big question is what happens when the [rent moratorium ] gets lifted,” said Bill Huang, Pasadena’s director of housing.

“At that point, the current rent comes due. People have to start paying their current rent, and, after a certain point, the back rent if they haven’t paid. That also will become due at some point, in Pasadena’s case six months after the emergency order gets lifted,” Huang said.

As Huang, whose department manages the city’s response to homelessness, recently explained, “These programs are helpful but they are not a permanent solution. The permanent solution is for folks to work and start earning the income they earned before, and that’s going to be a process, a process that’s not going to happen overnight. So we don’t know exactly what would happen to the homeless numbers.

“No one is expecting the numbers to go down, so it’s possible that they could go up,” Huang said.

“It all depends on how quickly people get back to work and how long city (rent) moratorium protections can stay in place,” he said. “That’s about it in my crystal ball. No one knows the timing and no one knows the speed of how quickly businesses can open.”

The last formal count of people experiencing homelessness in Pasadena was conducted back in January. All told, volunteer workers counted 527 homeless people, down from 542 people counted the previous year.

However, those numbers were not released until June — three months after an emergency was declared over the COVID-19 pandemic and safer at home orders were issued by the city Health Department. So it was not immediately known whether that number had grown since January.

Huang said his department is in the process of administering an emergency rental assistance (ERA) program to eligible households financially affected by the pandemic. The ERA provided grants for up to three months’ worth of past-due rent, not to exceed $4,500 total. But the money, which would go directly to landlords, can only accommodate 250 families, not the 750 families that applied for assistance, Huang said.

With CARES Act funds, Los Angeles County also offered $100 million in rental assistance countywide, except for the city of Los Angeles, but the window for applications to be included in that program closed on Aug. 31.

“Pasadena also has a small business assistance grant program and is planning to roll out another one for microbusinesses, very small businesses, with five employees or fewer, hopefully in the next month or two,” Huang said.

However, no one is sure what is going to happen at the federal level, with Democrats in Congress at loggerheads with the Trump administration over what will be included in the next aid package.

“There are a lot of open-ended things,” Huang said.

But the trend in homelessness, even before COVID, “was not good throughout the county,” he said. “In Pasadena, we had a slight decrease, but in most parts of the county the number went up again — a 12 percent increase. For many years, almost every single year, the number had been going up, and that was pre-COVID. So there will be tough sledding ahead,” Huang said.

“This coming January will be the first post-COVID, count, so we will see what happens,” he said.

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