By ANDREW FOERCH Staff Reporter
The Resident Relief Foundation in Tarzana has launched a fundraiser to protect U.S. workers from eviction after suffering financial emergencies related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Resident Relief Initiative was introduced in April and aims to raise $10 million over the next two years to be distributed in small grants to individuals facing eviction in states where moratoriums have been lifted. “What’s shocking is that our average grant is a month and a half of rent, a little less than $2,100 dollars. That's all it takes to keep someone in their apartment during a temporary financial crisis," Executive Director Tina Oswald told the Business Journal.
The foundation was established in 2017 by Keith Wasserman and Damian Langere, founding partners of real estate investment firm Gelt Inc., as a bridge fund for tenants who fall behind on rent due to unforeseen money-related emergencies, such as a serious medical diagnosis or the death of a family member. Grant recipients are then enrolled in an online financial literacy course to prevent future emergencies. What differentiates the foundation from other rent relief programs is that it has no income limits for applicants. Tenants in all tax brackets can qualify for grants if they submit documentation proving they are normally responsible renters rendered unable to make payments for reasons outside of their control. The nonprofit only issues a grant if the applicant is facing imminent eviction, and grants are capped at two monthly rent payments. Due to the ubiquitous nature of COVIDl9's economic fallout, Oswald said the foundation's universal approach to rent relief will make a huge difference.
"There's a demographic being left out of (government assistance programs). There is an untrue perception that if you make $85,000 a year, you don't need help," Oswald said. "I'm deeply concerned for people who worked for businesses that will not come back. … For the first time in my life, everyone's in the same boat." A survey released in May by the Census Bureau confirmed her outlook, finding that nearly a quarter of all respondents had missed their rent payments that month and were not confident they'd be able to pay on time the next month.
Relief pipelines To shore up donations, the foundation has cast a wide net that includes partnerships with such industry groups as MYND Property Management in San Diego, GSH Group in New Jersey, Luxer One in Sacramento, nonprofit Veritas Impact Partners in Texas and more. The Colorado Apartment Association has spun off a joint fund with the foundation to raise rent money for workers facing eviction in the Centennial State - Oswald said that pipeline has raised more than $125,000 so far. She added the National Apartment Association has agreed to boost the foundation's initiative with a donation link on the registration page for its annual "Apartmentalize" conference, which is being held virtually in November. Oswald even spoke of a teenage girl who asked for $3,500 in donations to the foundation's initiative as a bat mitzvah gift. In addition to cash donations, the foundation is soliciting investors of all sizes for donations of highly appreciated stock - there's an incentive for donors in that they can take a tax-deduction on any gifted securities. “Two shares of Tesla stock is a $2,000 write-off" Oswald said. She estimates the foundation's initiative and partner campaigns have raised about $250,000 so far. The foundation issued its first two COVlD-l9-related grants in mid-June. One covered two months of rent for a Colorado franchisee of sunglass stores who sunk his savings into a kiosk in a Denver shopping mall right before the pandemic hit. The other financed a month and a half of rent for the owner of a Florida cleaning company that saw its bottom-line tank when clients – mostly hotels and office buildings - closed their doors. Oswald said she has received applications from nearly all 50 states - the only exceptions as of press time were Hawaii and Alaska. Requests from states with eviction moratoriums are taking a back seat. That includes California - Gov. Gavin Newsom extended his executive order prohibiting evictions through July 28. "We're focused on people facing imminent eviction," Oswald said.
lmminent crisis Though L.A. renters are safe from eviction for now, Oswald said she fears what will happen when the moratorium lifts. "L.A. stands to have the highest number of homeless as a city than any other state. I can only imagine when COVID-I9 really pans out, what it could do to our infrastructure here. To see a sudden floodgate of people being evicted in Los Angeles is horrifying to me. That is truly what we're facing," she said. She cited the story of Million Dollar Murray, a homeless man in Reno, Nev. who cost Nevada taxpayers $1 million over the course of l0 years of expensive "non-solutions," including stints in jail and hospitals, according to a2006 New Yorker report. "The researcher estimated it takes $ I million to get someone off the street. If I can help somebody for an average of$2,100, it makes no sense why we wouldn't do it as a society," she said.