Helping Concord renters make it through the pandemic

Helping Concord renters make it through the pandemic

Eye on Concord by George FulmoreCONCORD, CA—As long as they don’t get the virus, some people are in a better position to make it through the pandemic.

This group includes those who have retired and/or have held jobs or owned businesses that have not been affected much. Most of us also received the $1,200 stimulus checks from the federal government, and $500 more for each kid.

On a lower tier are those who are or have been out of work but have received unemployment benefits and other aid to help them pay their bills, so far. On this tier, households may or may not have received stimulus checks. Mean President Donald Trump insisted that any household with one undocumented adult would not get any money, not even for those in the household who were citizens. On this tier, households may have received help with rent money from Shelter Inc, Monument Impact or other sources.

At the bottom tier are those households who have not been eligible for unemployment benefits or stimulus checks and are also out of work. Many of these households normally rely on household members who are undocumented workers to pay the bills. These are the workers who are the most likely to be unemployed during the pandemic.

Some of these households have received money from Monument Impact, Shelter Inc or other entities, but this is still the group that has to be having the hardest time. Many of these households will have had to defer rent for one or more months.

Seeking help from Echo

The city of Concord says that Concord tenants should seek tenant counseling and legal services from Echo Housing, which the city paid to provide this. But my impression is that most Concord tenant households do not call Echo, which provides bilingual communications. Why is this? I wish I knew.

Calling Echo Housing at 925-732-3919 does not cost anything. Neither does any advice or other attention given the caller. The rent assistance bills – such as AB3088 and AB1482 – can be complicated, so why not seek help or advice from Echo Housing? Even if you think that you are doing the right things, so far, why not get confirmation?

Some have said that they call Echo, but Echo does not call back. If that is true, please let me know. Let’s not let this happen. Echo Housing should be the primary entity for Concord tenants to call for rent rules advice and possible legal assistance.

Strategies for success

The best way to keep the roof over one’s head, of course, is to continue to make monthly rent payments. But is it a good strategy when your savings have disappeared, and you fear, month by month, that you are not going to be able to pay the next rent? Is another strategy to purposely defer rent?

My guess is that at least 10 percent of Concord renter households have already skipped or deferred at least one month of rent. This is where things can get complicated.

If you as a tenant defer rent, you must give your landlord a Declaration of Hardship at that time. If you do not, you could be subject to an eviction in 2021 because of rent that was not paid. Click here to get the hardship form.

You also must keep a detailed log of your actions and when you have done them. You must be able to prove this in court if your landlord says otherwise.

As explained on the flier that is being mailed to all Concord renter households in complexes of four or more units, tenants cannot be evicted from their homes through Jan. 31, 2021, because they have deferred rent as long as they have given the landlord Declarations of Hardship forms. There are hopes that this protection will be extended through all of 2021.

An option to pay 25 percent

As of Sept. 1, 2020, renters who can show a hardship from COVID only need to pay 25 percent of the monthly rent. This can be a sensible way to keep some savings in place. But each month you do this, you need to give the landlord the Declaration of Hardship.

You also should get some legal advice along the way to prevent a future eviction. Once again, this is where Echo Housing can come in. Let me know if that does not work.

Renters who have deferred payments are still on the hook to eventually pay back all deferred rent. How much needs to be paid, and when, is still a bit up in the air.

Obviously, renter households who have deferred multiple months of rent will have a hard time repaying all the back rent at the same time. Some free legal advice can get you on the right track.

City loan program

Concord has approved a program that uses a local bank to extend credit to Concord renters who have deferred rent. The bank will pay the landlord for the deferred rent, up to $6,000. In return, the renter will have a five-year loan at 1 percent that they will gradually pay back.

This program may work for some Concord households, but it is designed only for households who can show that they are back to work and that they can not only pay their rent but also repay deferred rents over time via a consumer loan.

This program is named the Easy Does it Rental Repayment Program. Details on how to apply for it are to be announced soon.

Better times ahead

I am a firm believer that things will be better in 2021 for most Monument renter households. Yes, some people will lose their small businesses, and many restaurants will be closed, permanently. And that is sad.

But it is not as if the structures that housed those businesses will be gone. Others will open businesses, and they will need skilled, experienced workers.

Also, households that have stopped employing housecleaners will go back to doing so. And so on and so on.

Still, the typical renter in Concord will be faced with paying 40 percent or more of the household income for rent. And, the typical renter may wonder why so many market-rate rentals are available in Concord – ones that they cannot afford to rent.

This is enough for the average Concord renter household to envision a bleak future, one that cannot possibly lead to the “American Dream” that includes home ownership and saving for retirement.

But I hope that those who love to live in Concord, because of the ethnicity of the Monument community along with its schools, churches, parks and other assets, will do all they can to remain here.

It is up to those who can help to do all we can, including donating to local renter relief funds and encouraging our City Council and government officials to also do all they can to help those in need.

To be a great city, Concord needs economic diversity, not a world-class sports field facility or more market rate rental housing and its hundreds of available units that will need “outsiders” to fill.

For more about Echo Fair Housing, click here.