Antioch will use its latest federal CARES Act grant to help lower-income households pay rents or mortgages and provide legal services for those facing evictions.
The City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to spend $500,00 of the $644,289 from its third-round Community Development Block Grant for a rental/mortgage assistance pool to be allocated through Shelter Inc. and St. Vincent de Paul.
The city will also spend $150,000 to contract with ECHO Housing to create a legal assistance program for low-income households trying to avoid evictions or foreclosures.
The grants are part of the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act signed on March 27, which authorized billions of relief dollars to state and local governments to provide assistance for people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Since March, Antioch received $1,153,546 from the program.
Teri House, Community Development Block Grant housing consultant, said a council subcommittee had met several times before making recommendations. It also looked at various recommendations from community groups that sought additional eviction prevention and eviction funds to prevent people from becoming homeless when an eviction moratorium ends in January.
The new plan also allocates $339,711 in CDBG federal funds for a home down-payment assistance program inadvertently left out in May.
“Relative to the need that is out there it is a small amount although a substantial amount of money, but there is anticipated to be a great deal of need,” House said about the rental/mortgage assistance for low-income residents.
Mayor-elect Lamar Thorpe applauded the rental/mortgage help, saying “I’m glad we’re focusing on COVID response and that’s really important.”
A number of speakers urged council members to approve the allocations.
“The $205,000 for the wraparound program for outreach, education and representation is excellent,” said Christine Clark of East County Regional Group.
Clark, who herself lost her job recently, added that for many in similar situations, the pandemic has caused a lot of stress.
“As parents of young children, the stress and anxiety of waiting to be evicted is causing extreme harm (for many),” she said. “The council support will provide the needed security and assurance to multilingual families while also keeping thousands of children housed.”
Krsit Laughlin, of East Bay Alliance and the Raise the Roof Coalition, said the money to provide legal assistance for tenants is much needed.
“People were already struggling with housing issues and now we’ve seen the floodgates opening with many more people fearing evictions,” she said. “We are relieved that California Assembly Bill 3088 (COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act) is providing some amount of protections, but the challenge is it is a very complicated law and a lot of landlords are not communicating the protections to tenants or tenants don’t understand them.”
She added that the investment in legal defense is “very cost-effective” and a “key strategy for keeping people housed.”
Reetu Mody, a managing attorney in tenants’ rights for Centro Legal De La Raza in Oakland, said she consistently gets calls from Contra Costa County renters, including undocumented and multilingual families, asking for support to avoid evictions and who have “habitability issues with rats, cockroaches and mold.”
“With the end of AB 3088 coming soon, the tenants are terrified and the families have nowhere to go and the children have nowhere to study or take remote classes and people have no way to figure out where to work, what to do,” she said. “We know that tenants’ rights representation in the courtroom makes a huge difference.”