When the pandemic started, Lauren S., a single mother of two, saw her work as an independent contractor grind to a halt. Suddenly, with two kids who were learning online and home all day, she was a full-time mom with no means to support her household. The sporadic work projects she could get paid only for groceries and some utility bills.

In September 2021, Lauren received a lifeline in the form of a $4,000 rent relief payment to help make ends meet. “Having applied to Esusu and their rental assistance program, I just have to say, thank you for the incredible work you do, to help people like myself find financial assistance during what has been the scariest 2 years of my life … What you have done for us has allowed me to actually breathe and be a normal mom who isn’t riddled with stress and anxiety.”

Lauren is not alone. COVID-19 shined a light on the vulnerabilities of working families. United Way of Greater Los Angeles’s economic mobility work became even more critical to help families weather the economic storm of the pandemic. One in five children in L.A. County lives in poverty, and almost 400,000 families survive on less than $26,000 per year.

Rental assistance can help prevent eviction and homelessness, the effects of which often stay with families for years. Keeping families in their homes improves their chances of academic success, financial stability, and overall well-being long-term.

Since May 2021, UWGLA has worked with longtime partner Strength Based Community Change and The Community Action League to facilitate applications for California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) in targeted underserved communities, focusing largely on Southeast L.A. and the Antelope Valley. With the generous support of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), UWGLA helped nearly 500 households submit ERAP applications. Today, many have already successfully received much-needed rental assistance from the state. The state average rental assistance total is more than $12,000.

“As the nation recoils from the impact of the pandemic, LISC continues to forge resiliency in our communities, ensuring that communities are doing more than surviving – communities must be thriving. With the help of community and financial partners, LISC has been able to shape the California COVID Rental and Utility Assistance program to help protect and support tenants and landlords. LISC works with nonprofit and community partners with capacity to provide local on the ground and in-language support to residents to help them access the California Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP),” said Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, Executive Director of LISC LA, and the State’s Local Partner Network (LPN) Coordinator. “We know that this health and economic crisis is particularly stressful on our lowest income households, with many unable to pay rent now and in the coming months. The California COVID-19 Rent Relief program has been a lifeline for renters and their families struggling to make ends meet and stay housed.”

“United Way is grateful to work with LISC to help so many families in need. However, as we began to work with partners on the state program, we realized that a number of families were going to fall through the cracks because of limitations in eligibility,” said Evelyn Garcia, UWGLA’s Director of Economic Mobility. “To ensure we had the resources to help them, we engaged service provider Esusu to provide assistance in these special cases. Thanks to a gift from the Ramesh and Kalpana Bhatia Family Foundation, we are able to provide direct rental relief with a special focus on families like Lauren’s.”

UWGLA partnered with rent relief and reporting service provider Esusu beginning in August 2021 to extend rental assistance to even more families. “The resilience of families like Lauren’s in the face of unprecedented challenges from COVID-19 is remarkable,” said Abbey Wemimo, Esusu cofounder and Co-CEO. “We are grateful to work with United Way to keep families in their homes through rental assistance,” added Esusu cofounder and Co-CEO Samir Goel.

Esusu facilitated the process with funds from the Ramesh and Kalpana Bhatia Family Foundation. With an average gift size of $2,221, they helped 21 families stay in their homes in 2021. Many of the benefitting families live in the Lynwood and Southgate area off the 710 freeway, which is historically under-resourced and has been devastated by pandemic job losses during the last two years.

“At a time of crisis, when many families and communities were facing financial hardship and uncertainty, it was critical for organizations and individuals to respond to the call so that no one was left behind. We understood that the needs greatly outweighed the limited resources available, especially in many hard-hit communities throughout Los Angeles,” said Anita Bhatia, Executive Director, Ramesh and Kalpana Bhatia Family Foundation. “We were excited and grateful to partner with United Way of Greater Los Angeles to create a Covid Relief Fund for families struggling from the economic effects of the pandemic. Through the United Way’s extraordinary work on the ground and identifying areas of need, we were able to help many hardworking families remain in their homes and lessen the long-term economic damage that could have happened without additional financial assistance.”

Here are some other families who the fund helped in their own words:

“I was unemployed for half the year while COVID-19 shut down LA. I obtained a lot of debt and was on the verge of being homeless.” — Vanessa

“So many of my hours have been cut at work. I’m barely eating and trying to pay bills and take care of my family.” — Janisha

“From March 2020 through September 2020, my former employer reduced my salary by 55% due to COVID-19. In December 2020, my employer eliminated my position and laid me off without any severance pay.” — Cara

“This past year has been such a rollercoaster for my family. Due to school closure happening so abruptly I was left with finding childcare for my 3-year-old and 12-year-old. I had to rely on my 17-year-old son to help. It brought peace of mind to know that we have secured housing during this pandemic. I am forever grateful.” — Melissa

With the help of key partners and generous donors, UWGLA will continue to serve as a bridge for families like Lauren’s.