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Friday, July 19, 2024

Less than 1 percent county rent support has been granted so far.

Bay City News. Peninsula 360 Press [P360P].

Since the program began two months ago, less than 1 percent of San Mateo County's available funding from a state emergency rental assistance program has been delivered.

Of the $47 million available in rental support funds, $19.9 million has been requested and only $314,000 has been distributed according to an update from County Administrator Mike Callagy in mid-May.

The county also expects another $26.7 million for rental support through the American Recovery Plan Act of 2021, the economic stimulus plan passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in March.

Callagy encouraged tenants and landlords to submit an application.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for them to get out from under that overwhelming rental debt that they have not been able to pay to maintain their housing," Callagy said.

In January, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 91, which extended eviction protections through June 30 and established a rental assistance program for tenants and landlords.

Under SB 91, participating homeowners can receive rental assistance to cover 80 percent of unpaid rent from April 2020 through March 2021, once they forgive the remaining 20 percent.

If landlords do not participate, tenants can also apply for assistance to cover at least 25 percent of the rental debt during the same period, the amount they must pay by June 30 to avoid eviction under state law.

Callagy said the fund may be underutilized because people may not be aware of the program or landlords may not want to forgive 20 percent of their rent, opting to wait for full payment in the future.

"That may be changing. We're anxiously awaiting word from the governor's office to see if that does in fact change to make it more attractive to homeowners," Callagy said. "To me it's a no-brainer."

Barriers to obtaining support

But the application process has not been as accessible and fast as advocates had hoped.

Emily Hislop, special programs manager for Project Sentinel, one of the partner organizations that helps people apply for rental support, said implementation of the program has been clumsy.

"That has nothing to do with the county. It has to do with the state trying to put a system in place very quickly," Hislop said.

The rental assistance program is run by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national nonprofit organization that the state enlisted to administer the program.

And while San Mateo County has distributed its own COVID-19 rental support and financial assistance in the past, the magnitude of this program led county officials to opt to have the state administer it, as other counties have done. The county remains responsible for conducting outreach and helping people apply for the money.

At several of the nonprofits and organizations assisting with outreach and applications, staff said applicants face language and technology barriers.

Some parts of the application are multilingual, while others are in English only. Some people need help setting up an email address to submit an application or are intimidated by the amount of paperwork required.

"At the end of the day, even if you are tech-savvy or speak English, the process is complicated," said Miriam Yupanqui, executive director of Nuestra Casa, a nonprofit based in East Palo Alto. "Our staff members can take three to four hours to help one family at a time."

Fear of evictions persists

Despite the millions in funding, advocates and tenants are worried about what might happen when the state's eviction moratorium expires at the end of June.

"Many of them - tenants - are very worried about being evicted and at the end of the day it comes down to knowledge and information. Many of them don't know that there is legislation in place to protect them from evictions," Yupanqui said. "We are working on a very tight deadline and I am concerned that we will not be able to help our families in need by June 30."

If tenants cannot pay at least 25 percent of the rent due by June 30, eviction could be a possibility. According to the Bay Area Equity Atlas, a regional data center, 14 percent of California tenants were behind on rent at the beginning of the year.

And for those who successfully apply for rental support, it can take several weeks for approvals to come through. 

Even if the rental moratorium is extended, the struggle will be far from over for those who have borne the brunt of the pandemic's impact.

Organizers from Faith in Action Bay Area, a network of faith-based organizations that support vulnerable communities, have been on the ground since last year educating tenants about their rights and connecting them with resources.

Adriana Guzman, lead community organizer for Faith in Action Bay Area, said that despite the state's plan to reopen in June, things will not return to normal for low-income tenants who have struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic. Many are still having trouble finding work, have reduced schedules or are asking family members for help paying rent.

"They-the tenants-can't handle it anymore. They need to pay the rent, but they also need to pay back money to family or friends," Guzman said. 

Faith in Action advocates have been pushing local leaders to extend the eviction moratorium and protect tenants. Dozens of advocates and tenants from their organization spoke at a May 4 county Board of Supervisors meeting to urge county leaders to create local protections in case the state did not extend the moratorium.

"People can't wait until the last minute for the state to act," Guzman said. "We really need to see an extension because until people are back to full employment, they won't be able to sustain the payments."

The California Rental Support Application for Tenants and Landlords is available from https://housing.ca.gov/covid_rr/.

Peninsula 360 Press
Peninsula 360 Presshttps://peninsula360press.com
Study of cross-cultural digital communication


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