LOS ANGELES — Marina Maalouf and her husband are three months behind on their rent as bills continue to pile up.

“This is my home,” said Marina Maalouf, a 65-year-old grandmother from Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood, fighting back tears. 

What You Need To Know

  • Marina Maalouf and other low-income renters applied for the city's Emergency Rental Assistance Program

  • The organization, Chinatown Community for Equitable Development, has been tracking several apartment complexes that have been fighting against the threats of evictions and displacement due to the rising rent prices for years

  • Maalouf was laid off from her job of cleaning business offices during the pandemic

  • Maalouf and her husband currently owe three months worth of rent and are asking the city of LA to help them catch up on their rent

Maalouf completed an application entering her family into Los Angeles’ 2021 Emergency Rental Assistance Program. She calls it a lottery that she cannot afford to lose.

“We don’t know when they’re going to give us the help. We’re just waiting and praying for the lottery,” said Maalouf.

She and her family’s low-income status allowed them to move into the Hillside Villa Apartments in Chinatown 23 years ago. They are weeks away from being evicted or having to pay higher rent. Maalouf said her current monthly rent is about $1,400 and her landlord is expecting them to pay $2,600 a month by June.

“It’s too much. We don’t even make half of this,” said Maalouf.

The department will provide a total of $235.5 million in state and federal funds to support LA renters and rental property owners who have been impacted by the pandemic. The program is open to all low-income renters in the city, regardless of immigration status.

Applicants must have a household income at or below 50% of the area median income, which is $39,450 for one person, $45,050 for two, $50,700 for three people, $56,300 for four people, $60,850 for five people, $65,350 for six people, $69,850 for seven people and $74,350 for eight people.

Priority will be given to households with incomes at or below 30% of the area median income.

The city provides two options for eligible applicants to receive the funding:

  • A cooperative approach for tenants and landlords, where payments are made to landlords to reimburse 80% of the eligible renters' unpaid rent accrued between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. Under that option, landlords must waive the remaining 20% of the unpaid rent; or
  • Eligible renters, who have landlords that declined to participate, will receive 25% of the unpaid rent that was accrued between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, and financial assistance to pay 25% of up to three months' future rent from April to June 2021.

Maalouf said people from the Los Angeles Tenants Union and Chinatown Community for Equitable Development helped her complete the application.

Kris Chan is with CCED and has been advocating for tenants like Maalouf.

“Chinatown is their community and they don’t want to leave,” said Chan,who is co-chair of Chinatown Community for Equitable Development’s tenant power committee.

Chan said CCED has been working with the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU) and the residents at Hillside Villas for the last three years. The 124-unit building was under a covenant contract for 30 years where they could rent out the units below market value.

Since the contract expired, residents there have been sent multiple eviction and rental increase notices. CCED is tracking different apartment buildings near or in Chinatown that have been fighting against the threats of eviction and displacement due to the rising rents long before the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the situation. 

“The whole aspect of gentrification is telling poor people to leave as if telling them you’re not, you don’t have any sense of human worth and we don’t care about you because you’re poor,” said Chan.

Maalouf said they have always paid their rent on time until the pandemic hit. She lost her job cleaning offices and her husband just returned to work after a long hospital stay.

“I don’t know what to do. I just prayed because I didn’t want to be alone,” said Maalouf.

While Maalouf waits for the city’s decision, she said they are doing everything they can to survive. From skipping meals to making tea out of pineapples she received from a food bank instead of buying tea at a store, Maalouf hopes good things will come as she waits.