Local coalition, residents demand improved process for rental assistance

October 14, 2021 /

A coalition of community organizations and residents held a press conference Tuesday calling on the Kern County Board of Supervisors to implement strategies to ensure residents can benefit from the Rental and Utilities Program (RUP)  in an expeditious and equitable manner. 

The eviction moratorium in California came to an end September 30, allowing landlords to take their tenants to court over missed rent payments. The eviction moratorium provided state-wide eviction and foreclosure protections for many residential tenants and property owners suffering from economic hardship due to COVID-19.

Various programs have been launched to assist renters that have been financially impacted by COVID-19. In Kern County, the Housing Authority launched the Rental and Utilities Program to help Kern residents pay their rent and utility bills.

Since March, the RUP application has been available to be turned in via online portal, mail, email or dropped off at the Housing Authority’s building. The application process, however, has demonstrated some procedural challenges.

“We are seeing that a lot of paper applications that are submitted are not quickly entered into the system and not assigned a case worker, and that’s delaying the process,” stated Emma De La Rosa, a Policy Advocate for Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability. “We understand it’s a challenging program but, now that the eviction moratorium is over, there’s really no waiting at this point. We have to move fast in order to keep everyone housed in Kern.”

Due to these challenges, the coalition members and residents got together to detail the demands that will make the program better for Kern County families. Some of these demands included: Kern County staff should be assigned or should work with organizations to provide a presence during eviction court cases, streamline the application process, and quicker disbursal of funds.

Following the press releases, several members of the coalition presented in front of the Board of Supervisors during the public presentation portion. During this time, they revealed the trouble they have had while assisting residents who have submitted applications.

“Not only are we frustrated with the system, we’re frustrated because there’s no service coming to our communities,” stated Hector Hernandez, Executive Director of Unidad Popular Benito Juarez. “The problem is not getting the application to the housing authority, the problem is getting it processed from the housing authority.”

Hernandez went into further detail about some of the problems that have ensued, disclosing that individuals who submit their applications in Spanish are getting English response letters that they cannot read, getting denied for not listing an email, and getting response letters five months after submitting an application.

“It doesn’t matter how much work we’re doing, the housing authority isn’t doing anything,” stated Hernandez.

Lorelei Oviatt, Kern County Director of Planning and Natural Resources, also came forth during the public presentation portion of the board meeting to express her concern with the problems of the program.

“We are going to use this money, or we are going to lose it,” Director Oviatt stated in front of the Board. “Besides the fact that we have people who are in need, we have people who are not being reached. So I would like to let you know that I’ll be working on this, with your direction and your support, and I am very interested in finding out from the people who spoke today and others in the field.”

Following Director Oviatt’s statement, Supervisor Perez thanked Director Oviatt for coming forward and even expressed her own disappointment with application process. Supervisor Perez also stated that she would love to be apart of fixing the process.

The coalition consisted of Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability (LCJA), Faith In The Valley, Vision y Compromiso, and Unidad Popular Benito Juarez (UPBJ).

Victoria Rodgers

Victoria Rodgers is an editor and reporter for Kern Sol News. Born in Bakersfield, CA, she received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Rockford University in Illinois. She can be reached at victoria@southkernsol.org.