American currency, hundred dollars, fifty dollars, twenty dollars, ten dollars, one dollar and some change photographed on Monday, March 8, 2021, in Pittsburg, Calif. Currency, banks, retail services. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

An Alameda County Superior Court judge last week ordered state housing administrators to temporarily stop denying pending COVID-19-related rental assistance applications.

Judge Frank Roesch ordered the California Department of Housing and Community Development to pause denials while the court decides if the state’s application process violates due process standards.

The judge also ordered the state not to finalize pending denials.

“Over the past few months, I’ve worked with hundreds of tenants who received a denial with little to no explanation and are terrified about losing their homes,” said Patricia Mendoza, an organizer with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).

“I’m just so relieved to see the judge take action to address this problem, and to give families a fighting chance to receive the rent relief they are due,” Mendoza said in a news release.

ACCE, along with PolicyLink and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, sued the state in June over allegations that it failed “to provide an adequate process for tenants to challenge denials” when applying to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

The suit claims that state administrators ran the roughly $3 billion program “in an opaque and discriminatory way” and that they refuse “to provide adequate explanation to tenants who were denied assistance.”

Plaintiffs say that as of June 23, 157,881, or 33 percent, of the applications were denied.

In a statement, HCD officials said they were disappointed in the judge’s decision but vowed to continue defending the program.

“We stand by the work we have done to keep more than 340,000 low-income households — over 700,000 Californians — stably housed through the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Program and will continue to do what we can to support Californians in need of assistance,” department officials said.

The program began in March 2021, when low-income tenants who were unable to pay rent due to pandemic-related stay-at-home orders or other restrictions were able to ask for state assistance for the period ending March 31, 2022.

Prior to July 1, tenants with pending applications could not be evicted from their homes, but those statewide protections have now expired.

Pandemic-related economic pain hit areas with existing housing shortages and high rents particularly hard and it tended to exacerbate racial and income disparities in places like the Bay Area, where 60 percent of Black tenants in 2019 were considered “rent burdened,” meaning they spent more than a third of their income on housing, according to the Bay Area Equity Atlas.

That same year, 55 percent of Latino tenants were rent burdened and nearly half of all Bay Area renters were similarly impacted, according to Equity Atlas data.

The next hearing in the lawsuit listed on the court’s website is a case management conference set for Sept. 9.