For some tenants, past-due rent was forgiven
Their rent past due, some tenants were apprehensive when the landlord showed up at their door.
But these landlords carried balloons and some good news. The rent was paid up.
They were among 45 Santa Ana property owners participating in program in which the city paid landlords up to 80% of overdue rent if they agreed to forgive the balance.
The money came from the Santa Ana Cares Act program, funded by federal dollars. It helped 323 families in Santa Ana, including some who hadn’t been able to pay rent since the year’s first lockdown in April.
“The sense of relief given to these families was very special. It was almost like hitting the lottery,” said Claudia Shaw, a loan specialist in the city’s community development department, which administers affordable housing programs.
Some people cried. One woman dropped to the ground and put up her hands in prayer. Another tenant smiled broadly and asked: “Are you serious?”
Those were just the tenants at five properties operated by Advance Management Company, which participated in the program and hand-delivered letters and balloons to notify the tenants in early September that they didn’t have to pay the back rent.
“They were so happy,” said Vicki Binford, director of property operations for the Irvine-based company.
“We tried to make it an event. That made it meaningful for everyone,” Binford added. “The people who delivered the letters were in tears too.”
Twenty-two more families at a sixth property, River House Apartments on Seventeenth Street, will be notified this week.
Of the 45 landlords who participated, 30 property owners have complexes with multi-family units and the rest are individual owners with one or two rentals, Shaw said.
The program ended Dec. 18 and paid out $1,140,957 to the landlords, who in turn forgave $285,239 from the tenants, Shaw said.
The idea came about as city officials pondered how to distribute $28.6 million in federal dollars via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. City officials had several conference calls with property owners to hash out how much of a cut they would be willing to take if the city agreed to cover past due rents.
As part of the agreement, the landlords cannot “go after the tenants for the last 20 %,” Shaw said. They also agreed to other stipulations, including not raising rents or evicting tenants for non-payment for six months from the date of the agreement they signed with the city.
That round of landlord assistance was coupled with a separate program that directly helps (different) tenants with their rent, paying up to $3,000. Combining the tenant and landlord programs, Shaw said the city helped 1,125 families.
Santa Ana also used CARES Act money on a mobile health resource unit that provided free COVID-19 tests, masks and other resources at parks and neighborhoods around the city.
And for those who already have COVID-19, the city offered free hotel rooms to family members living with someone who came down with the virus. The “isolation assistance program” helped 207 people stay at two hotels near Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, the Holiday Inn Express and the Embassy Suites. That, in turn, allowed some 81 Santa Ana residents to distance themselves and recover at home, without endangering anyone else, said Sylvia Vazquez, a city economic development specialist.
“We had one situation with 10 people in a home and mom (who) wanted to get away with her three kids,” Vazquez said. Another woman who is a diabetic stayed at a hotel with her daughter to avoid the disease, while others in the program included people who rent rooms in larger houses. “In one scenario, the renter was sick so we offered assistance to the family,” Vazquez said.
The hotel stays were good for up to 14 days, although some people were allowed to stay longer. The program ended Dec. 16.
Santa Ana, a densely packed city with a large low-income Latino community, has been hit hard by the virus. On Dec. 17, city and school officials launched a public awareness campaign along with the local non-profit Latino Health Access to encourage mask use and other precautions.
With possible new federal money coming, Santa Ana officials anticipate reviving the assistance programs, or at least some form of them, Shaw said.
“I’ve had people who missed the boat (because) they didn’t apply in time,” Shaw said. She told them to call back in January.