As the end of statewide eviction protections approach, San Francisco tenants are facing a swirl of confusion in the face of last-minute changes to obtain relief.
Renters have spent months applying to San Francisco’s program doling out financial assistance for back rent accrued during the pandemic as a parallel state program did the same. But last week, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development announced that, like other cities, the local program would be ending and tenants should seek relief from the state program.
The announcement sent city partners and tenant organizers scrambling to get the new advice out, setting off another period of confusion and a round of fresh applications in advance of the statewide eviction moratorium ending Sept. 30. Advocates, including Supervisor Dean Preston, have called for the moratorium to be extended once again in light of the Delta variant but the deadline for state legislators to extend it in time passed on Friday.
“We’ve been talking about the coming cliff for a very long time,” said Ora Prochovnick, director of litigation and policy at Eviction Defense Collaborative. “It’s here. Now the messaging has to start all over. We’re just bracing for a potential onslaught of eviction lawsuits that hopefully we’ll have the capacity with the tenant right-to-counsel program here in San Francisco to meet.”
Tenant advocates have been told that many of those who have not received funds from the local program must re-apply to Housing is Key, the state program. The City dispersed $9.5 million to 1,155 households, according to the Mayor’s Office. It is unclear how many of the 4,879 households with pending applications must begin again as many have already applied to both. The remaining applications are seeking a total of $37.5 million.
More than 4,800 households have applied through Housing is Key, for a total of $75 million in backrent. The Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency has dispersed about $27.6 million in rent relief to 2,471 households thus far, according to its data dashboard.
“In an effort to prioritize tenants and expedite the deployment of funds, federal guidance and state program rules were modified to create additional flexibility and remove onerous application barriers,” said Jeff Cretan, the mayor’s spokesperson, in an email. “This strategy has the benefits of using State’s capacity to process existing applications that have been received by City or State before the eviction moratorium expires, which is essential.”
California is currently working with $2.6 billion in federal assistance before receiving the other $2.6 billion. States that don’t earmark 65 percent of the first round will have the unspent funds reallocated to other states, potentially bringing more cash to California.
San Francisco also earmarked $32 million from local funds, boosted by the promise of the real estate transfer tax, Proposition I, passed in November. The City plans to spend its funds once federal assistance is tapped.
Russ Heimerich, BCSHA spokesperson, emphasizes that tenants who did not apply for the state program and face eviction due to the pandemic still have 15 days to do so once they get hit with a notice. Under Assembly Bill 832, which extended the moratorium, property owners are not allowed to issue such notices if the tenant has an application through March 2022. Eligible tenants who went into debt to pay their rent by maxing out credit cards and borrowing from friends or family, known as “shadow debt,” are still qualified for assistance going forward.
“If they don’t know if they qualify, they should try anyways unless they’re high income,” Heimerich said. “We encourage landlords and tenants to work together. The vast majority of mom-and-pop landlords don’t want to evict anybody but don’t want to keep missing their payments.”
Housing is Key added applications in five additional languages after hearing concerns about accessibility. It also later allowed nonprofit partners to submit online applications on a tenant’s behalf if they didn’t have an email.
But the accessibility issues persist, tenant advocates said. Those who have called the state line for assistance have received a call back at inconvenient times, as late as 10 p.m., said Faith in Action organizers in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, and have not been able to get updates on their applications. Tenants don’t know when the money is coming and many have just decided to leave in the face of growing debt.
The Budget and Legislative Analyst estimated in July that San Francisco renters have accumulated between $147 million and $355 million in rent debt since March 2020. More than $90 million was previously allocated to San Francisco through state and federal funds.
“The reality is there is a ton of confusion,” said Brenda Cordoba, a volunteer leader at Faith in Action. “People are in a ton of fear and trying to figure out what they’re going to do. How is it possible that in a sanctuary city we’re going to have what amounts to a different kind of deportation after this Sept. 30 deadline?”
Bottom line, tenant advocates urge people to stay in their homes and apply to Housing is Key, which comes with additional protections after Sept. 30. The City also provides tenants facing eviction with counsel headed by EDC
“People know the moratorium is stopping, they don’t know that additional protections are in place,” Prochovnick said. “That needs to be shouted just as loudly.”