Four months into the writers strike and almost two months into the actors’, the fear of industry workers losing their apartments and homes due to the work stoppage has become an increasingly looming threat. In July, Deadline published a story with quotes from an anonymous studio exec saying the game plan was to let the strikes drag on until union members were losing their housing, and at a recent event, chair Annette Bening confirmed that is indeed happening.
David Baach, an actor who has been part of SAG since 2015 with credits in Curb Your Enthusiasm and Silicon Valley, is among those who have received a grant from the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Emergency Assistance Program. For the last year, he’s lived in a rent-controlled, one-bedroom apartment in Larchmont, and before the strike, was always able to entirely cover his rent and bills with the money he earned as a working actor.
“The strike has had a massive impact on my housing situation. I worked one day in May, and since then all the work has stopped,” Baach tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve almost depleted my entire savings, and I haven’t been able to pay my rent the last few months. My building manager and property owners extended me a grace period due to the good social credit I had built up by doing some gardening and landscaping in our building’s common area. However, in early August, I received an eviction notice from the building’s management company taped to my front door.”
Admitting “it’s downright humbling as an adult to come to find you’ve reached the limit of your own self-sufficiency, and that it’s time to ask for help,” he applied to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s aid program and quickly received a check for that month’s rent. He is also applying for grants from ECF and MPTF to help cover past rent that he owes.
“Everyone I know is hurting right now,” Baach continues. “When it comes to cost-cutting and saving, you can get lean in almost every other aspect of life, but when it comes to rent, that’s a bill that has to be paid in full. We’re all struggling with that, and we all just want to get back to work; however, we need to be sure that getting back to work will mean that we can earn enough to responsibly afford to cover our costs of living.”
A number of Hollywood organizations have been supporting workers during this time with grants — the majority of which is going toward rent and mortgages — and these charitable leaders tell THR about the significant housing challenges they’ve heard from actors, writers and crew members during this time.
“Our director of social services in L.A. has been with us for 22 years and she just told me this morning that she’s never seen this many eviction notices in this short of a time period in her 22 years here,” says Keith McNutt, executive director of the ECF’s western region. Adds Motion Picture & Television Fund president and CEO Bob Beitcher, “People are becoming unhoused, they’re being evicted from their apartments and they’re not paying their mortgages so eventually they will lose their homes as well. We’re talking to people who are living in their cars, in some cases with their families.”
The reasons behind these housing issues go deeper than just a lack of income, but also are tied to the pandemic in several ways: There are “people who have not really recovered since COVID, who came into this crisis without reserves or actually even being behind on their rent, so that’s a situation individual people and families are facing,” says McNutt. “On top of that, you’ve got this macro situation where there are pockets within L.A. County where the eviction moratoriums have been lifted, and so in those pockets where there’s no longer protections, people are getting three-day eviction notices.”
As of Aug. 25, the Entertainment Community Fund has disbursed over $5.4 million to more than 2,600 film and TV workers, averaging over $500,000 per week with the greatest number of applications for financial assistance coming from California, followed by Atlanta and New York. The vast majority of those requests are for help in paying rent, McNutt notes, as ECF provides emergency payments to prevent evictions (and information on how to navigate one if it does happen) or assistance in rent and security deposits on a new place.
MPTF has also drastically increased its financial aid to Hollywood workers, giving away $1,500 grants and working with applicants on creating a monthly budget. Beitcher acknowledges, though, “The average rent in L.A. is $3,000, so even if they cobbled together this month’s rent, what about next month’s rent and the month after that and the month after that? These grants are helpful — it’s $1,500 more than they had before, and some people are OK with their rent and need it for other things — but it’s not going to keep the wolf at bay for long.” He also notes that though many compare this time to the pandemic, industry workers were more often getting enhanced unemployment benefits during that time, which they are not getting now.
“I think we can tell from the first calls we’ve made eight weeks ago or more to now, that is the hottest topic and the most dire,” Beitcher says of housing concerns. “I spoke to a social worker last week, I could tell she was very upset. I asked her what’s wrong, she said, ‘I just spoke to four people in a row who are about to get evicted.’”
The SAG-AFTRA Foundation is also on the frontlines of supporting its actors, as executive director Cyd Wilson says the group typically got 10 to 12 applications a week for assistance before the strikes and now is averaging 50 to 75 a day. She adds 75 to 85 percent of those requests are specifically for rent and mortgages, and one or two a day have received eviction notices; the latter tend to be people who are months behind on rent, and the landlords have stopped accepting monthly payment until they pay the thousands owed.
“People are moving in with relatives and friends, we do know that people are on couches — people that didn’t get to us before they actually got evicted — and so we’re offering them, ‘Do you want us to help you get into a new place or do you want us to help you catch up with your bills?’” Wilson continues. “I think there are a lot of people who are thinking ahead, thinking, if this goes through the end of the year, why would I get into a new apartment because I’ve got to make sure that I can make my car payment, my phone payment. They’re really sitting down and thoughtfully thinking through the process and so we are seeing people that are moving in with family members, moving in with friends.”
As the dual strikes go on without an end in sight, Wilson adds, “When a strike happens, people go, ‘I’m not going to go to Starbucks, I’m not going to go out to dinner.’ There were things that they cut down to bring their expenses down. But when you get to the point where you’ve cut all the fat out and you’re now down to you’ve got to pay electric, you’ve got to pay gas, you’ve got to pay your rent, I think it’s going to become tighter and tighter and more difficult.”
Pay Up Hollywood co-head Liz Alper is quick to note, though, that for assistants and supporting staff these housing struggles are nothing new.
“It’s residual from the fact that during the pandemic, the studios laid off assistants, they fired assistants, they reduced hours, they did everything they could to squeeze as much money from the assistants during the pandemic, and then after the pandemic, those jobs were never restored to full sustainability either. So even before [the strikes,] we were seeing assistants who were struggling with rent, struggling with the cost of living,” she says. Pay Up Hollywood has teamed with ECF and WIF to create the Hollywood Support Staff Relief Fund, which has donated $88,000 to workers so far, with rent being the most pressing need. Alper also highlights that “there’s a two-prong fight here: It’s the fact that there is no revenue coming in for our members and our people, but it’s also that this city is incredibly unaffordable.”
Alex Rubin, a writer and co-head of Pay Up Hollywood, notes the personal impact on her housing amid the strikes, saying, “My life is based on some pretty tough math right now. I saved everything I possibly could in the two years that I’ve been working as support staff since I left school; I thought I was saving it for in between gigs but it turns out, I was saving it for this. So between my accrued savings of about a year and a half and unemployment, I know exactly how many months I can pay my rent for, and those numbers get smaller every day.”