Stay Housed LA: Housing Relief Now, Building a Movement for the Future
The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to drastically expand the ranks of Los Angeles’s unhoused population and worsen the region’s long-standing eviction crisis.
Across Los Angeles County, people are struggling to pay rent. Their children, nieces, and grandchildren cannot pay rent. Illegal eviction notices go up and families fall into homelessness. Landlords break doors and raise utility fees in attempts to force tenants, including some chronically ill — and who are supposed to be protected by city and state eviction laws — to move out. The Pasadena Weekly recently reported on a man who was illegally evicted for a higher-paying tenant (despite continuing to try to pay rent) and had his personal property maliciously destroyed and thrown in the trash. One woman was recently hospitalized for coronavirus and had no home to go back to. Many people need food as well as shelter. Rapid response teams, trained in responding to illegal lockouts, see a demand for their services that outstrips their capacity.
One elderly woman in South Los Angeles suffered a stroke. While in the hospital, she was locked out of her apartment. This is an extreme example, but it is not an isolated incident -- the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) estimates that they are seeing two to five lockouts per week versus five in a normal year.
Now ACCE is one of several community partner organizations that, backed by Liberty Hill Foundation and Los Angeles County, are helping fight these trends to keep the most vulnerable Angelenos housed.
Stay Housed LA County is a collaboration among 14 community-based organizations, nine legal service providers, Liberty Hill, and the LA County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs (DCBA). Its mission is to inform tenants of their rights and to provide them with free legal and educational resources they need to exercise those rights.
“While most landlords have representation in court, most tenants go to court with none and lose — not because they should, but because they have no legal representation,” said Cata Romo, the Stay Housed LA Assistant Director at community partner Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE). “That's a lot of people getting evictions, and especially during a pandemic, we know that more evictions means more COVID-related deaths.”
The Stay Housed LA program is targeting its outreach to the communities most vulnerable to eviction and displacement, generally low-income Black and Brown communities, SAJE has developed a vulnerability index that compares metrics like income, unemployment, and rent burden for each zip code in LA County.
Liberty Hill embraces its role behind the scenes as both program coordinator and financial intermediary. In addition to convening the coalition, this work notably includes serving as a liaison to government partners.
“Liberty Hill helps to guide the program by convening coalition meetings, helping CBOs stay on track for program goals as well as encouragement to work together as CBOs from across LA County,” said Romo.
Keeping people housed today and building power for tomorrow
Visitors to the coalition website stayhousedla.org can learn about their rights as tenants, sign up for workshops, and fill out a legal referral form to be connected with a tenant rights organization and legal service provider. Coalition members also reach out proactively to those who may be in need of assistance.
“We phone and text bank Angelenos to make sure they know about their rights as renters and to connect them with legal support, if needed,” said Romo.
The response has been remarkable. With a focus on the most vulnerable, coalition members have contacted more than a 200,000 tenants via phone and text banks. In addition, the coalition has hosted 140 workshops and served 7,500 tenant households with legal assessments or services. Every day they reach more people with this critical information and assistance.
These efforts reveal a staggering level of need, including many of the examples listed above. Los Angeles was in the midst of a housing crisis before the COVID pandemic hit, and with growing unemployment and dwindling financial support, that crisis grows worse by the day. A recent report by the Economic Roundtable estimates that COVID-related job losses will lead LA County’s homeless population to roughly double by 2023, including a doubling of the chronically homeless population.
The challenges will only become more stark if California’s eviction moratorium expires, as scheduled, in the coming months. The COVID pandemic is resurgent and the weather is becoming colder, meaning we could face more evictions even as the unhoused face the twin threats of hypothermia and COVID exposure, not to mention the many other risks and stresses of living without stable housing. In preparation, Stay Housed LA is working to increase its capacity, reach more tenants, and develop creative partnerships with member-based organizations, government partners, and other non-profits in order to reach the most vulnerable renters.
The coalition is also helping to organize meetings that connect housing-vulnerable community members with their elected officials. A recent virtual meeting with Supervisor Holly Mitchell was attended by 600 people—a staggering number that speaks to the overwhelming need for assistance. The coalition is working to set up meetings with other city and county officials.
The coalition’s ultimate goal is to build lasting power. Through Stay Housed, Liberty Hill and its community partners are laying the groundwork to build a tenants’ movement across LA County. Stay Housed LA is an initiative of the Renter’s Right to Counsel – LA coalition, and the coalition is intentionally implementing Stay Housed LA in a way that will advance the long-term goal of a right to counsel, ensuring that every renter facing an eviction has legal representation. This policy already exists in New York City and San Francisco, and the LA coalition wants to build on these models by including community-based outreach and education. The base of empowered, educated tenants that coalition members are helping to unite through Stay Housed LA are powerful advocates for an end to unnecessary eviction and displacement for all.
Seeing a path forward
SAJE describes working with one tenant who came to multiple Stay Housed workshops, seeking assistance with a landlord who was harassing her and threatening her with eviction. Stay Housed, in turn, was able to assist her not only in informing her of her rights but also boosting her confidence in her own ability to stand up to her landlord’s intimidation.
Collaboration among the community-based organizations is also key to the program’s success. SAJE recounted working with one tenant who came to one of their workshops who lived in Long Beach, an area which is served by the organization Long Beach Residents Empowered (LiBRE). SAJE connected the tenant with LiBRE to receive the necessary support and services that a local community organization can provide while also remaining in touch with the tenant to keep tabs on the case should additional support be needed.
Stay Housed LA is one more element of Liberty Hill Foundation’s Agenda for a Just Future and our Fight for A Roof Over Every Head. Outside of Stay Housed LA, Liberty Hill continues to work with tenants’ organizations in small cities across LA County pursuing rent control legislation and building organizing capacity. Liberty Hill is currently working with five community land trusts, organizations that purchase land and dedicate it in perpetuity to affordable community housing.
As renters across the county are thrown into a housing crisis every day, Liberty Hill will not rest until everyone has access to safe, healthy, and affordable housing. With its grassroots community partners, Liberty Hill will continue to build power for the most burdened and vulnerable members of society. Your continued support is essential to this journey.