SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—As the statewide eviction moratorium expires on June 30, many renters with past due bills as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic are still waiting for financial help which, unless they take action, might never come.
Across Santa Cruz County, some 2,666 people have submitted applications to the state’s Housing is Key program for rental assistance. At least 2,174 have received assistance as of Wednesday, with the average amount being $10,901.
In Watsonville, 688 people applied for assistance before the March 31 deadline, and 592 have received an average of $7,917 in assistance.
The remaining applicants could be facing the same problem as many Californians: They are unaware the state has denied their applications, and that they will be permanently denied unless they address the issues.
According to Community Bridges CEO Ray Cancino, Housing is Key officials frequently deny applications for issues such as missing information. But they alert only the applicant, and only via email. They do not alert the organizations helping them with their applications, he says.
The problem, Cancino says, is that many people are not computer savvy, many others do not frequently check their email and others are not native English speakers.
Once a claim is denied the first time, the applicant has 30 days to respond, Cancino says. After that, it can be permanently denied.
“The reality is that the state overwhelmingly depends on digital access, and our community overwhelmingly has a lot of digital literacy issues,” he said. “The regulatory process and the requirements are kind of holding people back.”
The delays from the state have left both renters and landlords in limbo. Locally, officials have kicked in to help those left behind. In March, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors approved the use of $500,000 to kickstart that countywide rental assistance plan, and the Watsonville City Council chipped in $20,000 from the city’s affordable housing fund.
Cancino says that applicants should check their Housing is Key and email accounts every day, including their junk and spam folders.
Anyone who needs help can call the Community Bridges line at 316-1822.