S.F. resumes COVID-19 rent relief program

‘There are a lot of families concerned about losing their home’

Recognizing that many renters are still struggling with financial hardship stemming from pandemic-related job loss or illness, The City’s supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to restart a local relief program for tenants.

More than $50 million will be available through the local program, called San Francisco Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which began in 2020 but then paused when The City deferred to the state program. Applications can be found at www.sf.gov/renthelp.

“There is a lot of anxiety around this issue, I think rightfully so,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safaí in the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday. “There are a lot of families concerned about losing their home, they are concerned about being displaced, and they are concerned about the magnitude of rent they might not be able to make up.”

The decision to resume local cash relief comes shortly after California lawmakers recently voted to extend the state eviction moratorium and distribute financial assistancethrough June 30, but only for people who applied by the program’s deadline of March 31.

The new legislation, AB 2179, prevents landlords from evicting tenants who applied and are still waiting on their rent relief payments from the state. Renters may file appeals past the state’s March 31 application deadline if requests are denied or not fully met.

But AB 2179 also puts limitations on renter protections created at the local level. The new state law grandfathers in some local eviction protection policies passed before Aug. 19, 2020, such as the eviction moratorium in Oakland. But cities including San Francisco, where the local eviction moratorium expired on Dec. 31, 2021, are now preempted from re-enacting the local eviction ban under the new state law.

In other words, the state’s COVID-19 rental relief program will provide cash assistance and ban evictions through June 30 for all California tenants, as long as they applied by March 31. San Francisco’s program kicked off on April 1 to provide financial assistance directly to local renters who missed the state’s application deadline. However, the state’s eviction moratorium does not apply to this group.

The $50 million in new relief funds for San Francisco will add to the millions of dollars already distributed throughout the pandemic. In May 2021, San Francisco received $90 million in federal funding for its local rent relief program. Applications for those funds were accepted from June to September 2021. But by fall 2021, renters in San Francisco were directed to apply through the state’s program instead.

San Francisco has so far distributed $21 million among 3,000 households in its federal funding intended for local COVID-19 relief, according to the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

City officials on Tuesday bemoaned the back-and-forth rules around rental protections and assistance that have occurred throughout the pandemic at the state and local levels.

“It has been a mess not due to our making,” said Supervisor Dean Preston. “The state… has completely dropped the ball when it comes to implementing rent relief legislation.”

Critics of the state law include Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), who support rent relief but argued that preempting local eviction moratoriums in some cities would prevent further needed assistance.

“There is no policy rationale for overriding local eviction protections in San Francisco, etc., while allowing other cities to protect their renters. This arbitrary distinction is harmful to San Francisco renters, as well as renters in other cities and counties that aren’t part of the favored group of cities,” Wiener and Ting said in a joint public statement, announcing why they did not support the bill.

As of April 5, more than 20,800 households in San Francisco applied to the state rent relief program, but only about half of those applicants (10,174) have been served, according to the California COVID-19 rent relief dashboard. About $115.2 million in total funds had been paid to San Francisco tenants, according to the dashboard.

Meanwhile, the number of employed residents remains below pre-pandemic levels, data from the Office of the Controller shows. And demand for rent relief continues to outstrip the amount of money allocated.

The vast majority of applicants (80%) make less than 30% of the area median income in San Francisco.

“AB 2179’s preemption of San Francisco’s eviction moratorium is a fatal flaw in the bill,” Wiener and Ting said. “Without this change, we stand opposed to this legislation.”

sjohnson@sfexaminer.com

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