By Russell Leung, AsAmNews Intern
A California housing rights coalition filed a complaint of language and disability discrimination in the state’s rental assistance program on Friday.
The lawsuit alleges struggling renters with limited English proficiency and or disabilities face roadblocks getting part of the $5 billion set aside for rental assistance.
California has extended its eviction moratorium through the end of September. According to the coalition, however, the extension is inadequate if renters cannot apply for assistance. It cites a May study that found that “92% of tenant advocates have seen technological barriers block renters from applying for help” in California.
“At different points this spring, the assistance website’s Chinese translations said ‘Go back to your country, applicant’ when people tried to re-enter their online application and the Vietnamese translation incorrectly renamed the ‘tenant’ button as ‘landlord,’” the coalition notes.
Advocacy organizations Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Asian Law Caucus, Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Los Angeles and Bet Tzedek submitted the complaint to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing on behalf of the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition (SFADC).
Tiffany Hickey, a housing rights staff attorney for Asian Law Caucus who co-wrote the complaint, told AsAmNews that making the emergency rent assistance accessible is critical because it is the primary lifeline for renters who are financially impacted by the pandemic.
“My landlord and I do not speak English and we do not use computers,” Mr. W, a Chinese American tenant in San Francisco, told the coalition through a translator. “It has been extremely difficult to apply for rental assistance because there are no applications in our language that we can complete at home and mail.”
Hickey added that Mr. W’s story exemplifies how the program falls short and leaves people out.
The complaint, Hickey said, is also meant to raise awareness because the communities that suffer from the discrimination also endure low visibility.
“Something that we’ve seen in a lot of our communities is extreme isolation, especially in the wake of anti-Asian hate—that’s really increased lately—and throughout the pandemic, particularly for housing,” Hickey said. “Our hope is to really get the word out there, and help HCD understand that there are a lot of people who really do need help who are not being reached. And we want to be a part of that solution.”
Among the department’s critical errors, the coalition contends, are requiring emergency assistance applicants to have an email address and an internet connection; failing to integrate screen reader compatibility for blind and low vision people into the website; and relying on Google Translate to translate the application into non-English languages.
The complaint implores HCD to enact several reforms in the emergency rent assistance application process. They include providing accurate translations for applications, increasing phone line capacity and creating a mechanism for people with disabilities to request accommodations.
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