WATSONVILLE — Rental Assistance Program Coordinator Lourdes Arellano-Perez has come across countless housing cases from people throughout Santa Cruz County, but one in particular sticks out in her mind.
A local landlord was renting out chicken coops on their property to people for $250 per month. Families had been begging them for a roof over their heads during the winter season; a place to stay out of the rain.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Arellano-Perez said. “It seems unreal this kind of thing is going on. But it is. It’s happening right here in our community.”
The Rental Assistance Program is part of the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Inc. (CAB). It has existed for as long as the organization.
But recently the program is seeing a decrease in people reaching out for help. And since the fiscal year will be ending on June 30, many of the grants which annually fund the program will run out.
“We’re just trying to get the word out,” she said. “We want the community to know we’re here and that we want to help.”
The Rental Assistance Program provides services for income-eligible families with children, people with disabilities and seniors over 60. A main focus of the program is eviction prevention, Arellano-Perez said.
“Just yesterday I spoke with someone who was renting a two-bedroom house for $3,200 per month,” she said. “They told me how they were born and raised here, and they didn’t want to move, but they just can’t afford it anymore. It’s heartbreaking.”
CAB has also partnered with Santa Cruz County to facilitate efforts for the 2020 Census Project. The more people who are counted in the census, they explained, the more money various programs (including Rental Assistance) can provide.
“We’re trying to educate people about why the census is important,” said Joseph Watkins, Assistant Project Director of the 2020 Census Project. “Everything is based off census figures. People who aren’t counted can effect funding for an entire community.”
CAB recognizes that many people are afraid to give out personal information, or report on how many people are living in a single space.
“Even if they are documented — people are nervous,” Watkins said. “The political climate in this country right now is leaving everyone on edge. We want people to know, there’s no fear or stigma in what we do. We’re just here to gather figures. The more people who are counted, the more funds we can provide.”
Rental Assistance has various programs, including one focusing on homelessness and another on high-density living. Angie Moreno, Coordinator of the South County Housing Collaborative, explained the importance and impact of having a stable home.
“In six months, 42 students who were in the program saw an increase in school attendance and better grades,” she said. “Living standards affect everything.”
The team at the Rental Assistance Program knows that they can’t help every person struggling with housing issues. But, Arellano-Perez said, they do want the community to know the program is a possibility.
“The good news is, we do have money and we can provide help to some people,” she said. “Anyone can call up or walk in these doors, sit down and find out if they’re eligible. ”
For information on the Rental Assistance Program as well as the 2020 Census Project visit cabinc.org.