Bay Area COVID-19 Rent Relief Programs Slow Start

Two months after the state launched COVID-19 rental assistance programs for low-income renters, Bay Area towns and counties are opening individual programs to keep poorer residents at their home.

Last week, San Jose and Santa Clara County launched their $ 60 million program to reach out to renters experiencing homelessness. Efforts will focus on providing assistance to adults representing less than 30% of the county’s median income, with a website accessible in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Local awareness groups will also be ready to help tenants in around 20 languages.

Homeowners and renters are slowly accessing the myriad of programs designed to distribute the initial $ 2.6 billion in federal assistance given to California to cover housing debts related to the pandemic and prevent evictions. About $ 500 million has been allocated to the Bay Area.

The state’s moratorium on evictions ends on June 30 and thousands of Bay Area tenants could be relocated. California tenants are protected from legal action if they pay a quarter of the rent arrears owed during the pandemic. Some tenant advocates are urging lawmakers to extend the deadline, which homeowner groups are opposing.

California tenants owe about $ 400 million, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, but other economic surveys put the debt at $ 4 billion and more. The COVID-19 pandemic has sent unemployment to record highs, and it is only in recent months that the state has started to recover jobs.

Although the state opened online applications for its program on March 15, major cities and counties were allowed to create their own programs. Fremont, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and the counties of Santa Clara and Alameda have decided to set up their own distribution of federal funds largely intended to serve the poorest communities.

In March, San Mateo and Contra Costa counties launched their programs through the state, and Alameda County implemented its own system for very low-income tenants. Oakland’s new local program, Keep Oakland Housed, was on a temporary hiatus last week due to a high volume of requests. San Francisco has yet to open its rental assistance system.

State and local programs encourage cooperation between landlords and tenants to settle debts. Refunds cover 80% to 100% of amounts owed, with owners agreeing to waive future collection of unpaid balances.

Santa Clara County supervisors and San Jose City Council voted in February to focus their share of aid, around $ 60 million, on the poorest residents, leaving higher-income tenants to apply for the program of State.

“There is no better way to prevent homelessness, and it is absolutely the most important thing we can do to help with the time bomb of evictions,” the supervisor said at the time. of the county, Otto Lee.

The Santa Clara County effort will bring relief to renters earning less than $ 49,700 for a family of four. The state’s program follows broader federal eligibility guidelines, allowing residents to earn less than 80% of the area’s income, or less than $ 117,750 for a family of four. The state has started making payments, although homeowners are concerned about the pace and accuracy of disbursements.

The Santa Clara County Homeless Prevention System, a collaboration of nonprofit organizations led by Destination: Home and Sacred Heart Community Service, manages the joint city and county program. The two nonprofits have stepped up a gear during the pandemic, soliciting private donations to partner with local funds and provide emergency housing assistance. The groups distributed $ 36 million to about 15,000 low-income households during the pandemic, using dozens of small charities to reach specific groups. More than 9 in 10 families were from communities of color.

David Low of Destination: Home said the new relief program seeks to build on the experience of helping struggling families for more than a year. At least 45 local nonprofits will help identify eligible tenants and process applications.

Renters must declare that they have lost income or have become ill with COVID-19 and provide identification and documents on their income and housing status. The program will not ask questions about immigration status.

“We are very concerned about what will happen in the coming months when the eviction protections expire,” Low said. Although it took longer than initially expected to get the program up and running, he said, “We wanted to make sure we did it right as well.”


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