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Low-income Asian American households have lowest rate of rental assistance in California

Language and cultural barriers remain obstacles to rent relief for Asian American communities, experts said. 
Image: People hold up signs as protesters supporting a rent freeze gather in Chinatown on Aug. 10, 2020 in Los Angeles.
People hold up signs as protesters supporting a rent freeze gather in Chinatown in Los Angeles on Aug. 10, 2020.Tommaso Boddi / Getty Images file

Thousands of low-income Asian American households in California are either not applying to the state’s rental assistance program or struggle to obtain funds, a new report by UCLA reveals. 

Just 25 percent of rent-distressed Asian American households applied for aid, compared to 48 percent of white renters, according to the report, “Housing Insecurity Persists for Renters of Color Amid the Covid-19 pandemic,” published last week. Asian Americans had the lowest rate among all racial groups.

The report also found that only 11 percent of Asian Americans who applied for government aid received it, compared with approximately 21 percent of white households.

Paul M. Ong, the director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA and the study’s lead author, stressed that language barriers and issues such as a lack of outreach and education about the program remain obstacles to assistance. 

“What we know from other programs, and it’s probably applicable to this program, there are cultural and linguistic barriers,” Ong said. “It’s clearly a problem in terms of accessing the information, being knowledgeable and working your way through the application process. Although some public agencies do try to provide multilingual access, they’re usually not implemented very effectively.” 

The Asian American population is the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S., and includes more than 20 million that identified as “Asian” on the census, according to 2020 census data. More than half of Asian American, Black and Latino renters are struggling to keep up with rental payments, compared with 8 percent of white households. 

The report also comes as California lawmakers have extended eviction protections to June 30 for tenants who are still waiting on state funding. California has received more than $5 billion in federal aid for rental assistance. Overall in California, 14 percent of cash-strapped renters are behind on rent and 15 percent fear eviction, the report found. 

Many immigrants worry that the funding will negatively affect their immigration status, Ong said. He added that this raises questions about them being considered a public charge, or dependent on the government, a rule denying citizenship to immigrants. 

“So many of our immigrants are not yet naturalized citizens,” Ong said. “Although the public charge is not necessarily applicable directly, quite often there is this fear among immigrants about being defined or categorized as a public charge, and fear about that puts their immigration status at risk.”

The report also found that Latinos have the second-lowest rate of applying for aid (39 percent) and receiving it (14 percent). 

Having more community members on the ground can resolve some of these barriers to rental assistance, said Henry Perez, the associate director of InnerCity Struggle, a grassroots organization serving communities of color in California.

“The state needs to work with trusted messengers in the community that can do outreach in both Latinx and Asian American communities,” said Perez, adding that it takes advocates up to two hours to help tenants navigate the application process. “It takes that investment to be able to reach these communities … and actually walk them through the process.”