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Kern County rental assistance programs look to prevent a housing crisis

Posted at 3:19 PM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-28 13:12:42-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — In Kern County around 3,200 households have received rental assistance since March. But officials say many more still need help.

The Kern County Housing Authority says they have processed more applications and distributed more financial assistance in the past four weeks than in the first three months of the program. They have been receiving about 300 applications daily since the weeks leading up to the eviction moratorium ended on October 1st.

Now the Housing Authority is now tapping into community organizations to streamline the application process. The applications are taking on average 30 days to process and some communities are harder to reach than others.

"Some of the applications we submitted were in March and April and until September, they still did not have an answer," explained Hector Hernandez, CEO of Unidad Popular Benito Juarez, an organization that advocates for health, housing, and basic human rights of indigenous people.

Hernandez said the wait is frustrating for those applying for rental assistance, whose livelihood is on the line.

"A lot of them don’t know how to navigate the internet or browse the website, download PDF files, have a printer at home. The majority of the people that we work with, they don’t have that."

He also said some either only speak their indigenous language or have very limited Spanish and need help understanding the application.

Rental assistance programs look to prevent a housing crisis

For this reason and several others, many people are submitting uncompleted applications, which is why the assistant executive director for the Housing Authority of the County of Kern, Heather Kimmel, said it is taking a while to process. So, they are making some changes.

"So, if we work with our community-based organizations to collect all that information we need at the front end. When the application is submitted, it means the money goes out quicker."

The Housing Authority is working with 11 community-based organizations so they can walk through the applications with community members, something the Housing Authority does not have the manpower to do.

Organizations Helping with Rental Assistance:

Hernandez’s organization is one of them, as well as the MLK CommUNITY Initiative which focuses on the African-American community.

Arleana Waller, founder, and CEO of the MLK CommUNITY Initiative explained: "We can reach them rather quickly to ensure they are returning whatever paperwork is necessary to get them approved and also to explain to them the process, how long it is going to take. That unknown is scary. We want them to know every step of what is happening."

"People are mentally and emotionally exhausted and so to add something new is almost like that one straw of hay that breaks the barrel and that is kind of what is going on," continued Waller. "And so we need to be on the ground supporting them, holding their hand as they complete this application, and ensuring they turn in all this paperwork to get approved."

The Housing Authority has helped around 3,200 homes, 43 percent of which have been in the county areas outside of the Bakersfield city limits.

They will also be sending Housing Authority staff members to rural areas of the community to help the tenants there with the application process.

They also note the program helps the landlords who are also hurting. So far, they have seen that most landlords are working with the tenant to get through the process.

With that rental assistance, 23ABC was curious about where things stand in California.

The Public Policy Institute of California says low-income renters in the state, which are those with household incomes of less than $25,000 are seven times more likely to be behind in rent than those with high incomes of $75,000 or more.