How to apply for post-pandemic rent relief in San Francisco and California

Reyna Aguilar has amassed $20,000 in rent debt since losing her restaurant job when coronavirus shutdowns set in.

Reyna Aguilar has amassed $20,000 in rent debt since losing her restaurant job when coronavirus shutdowns set in.

Since she lost employment during the pandemic, and is considered low-income, Aguilar is eligible for a portion of the $90 million in rent relief dedicated to San Francisco from state and federal governments. But like others, she’s run into difficulties filling out the application and hasn’t been assured she will receive aid as tensions with her landlord increase.

“I’m pretty desperate,” Aguilar told The Examiner, through a Spanish translator. Her father recently died from coronavirus and she is now the main supporter of her mother and daughter in Mexico. She has also had trouble finding information about the rent relief program. “I’m told there are new types of applications to apply to, or new money coming in, but the reality is I haven’t heard anything.”

San Francisco estimates that renters like Aguilar owe somewhere between $147 million and $355 million, accumulated since the emergency shutdowns, according to numbers released by the Budget and Legislative Analyst on Wednesday. Last October, the back rent estimate was thought to be up to $196 million.

With California’s eviction moratorium fast approaching on June 30, there isn’t much time to apply and receive funds in time. Gov. Gavin Newsom is in talks to extend the statewide moratorium, but the details aren’t firm. San Francisco tenants are in luck, however, with a six-month extension locally approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Tenants in need of rent relief, who have yet to apply, have some things to keep in mind. There are two systems to apply. California’s Housing is Key program applies to rent debt incurred between April 2020-March 2021. San Francisco’s program program for rent relief applies to debt incurred since April 2021.

Tenants are eligible if one or more people in a household experienced financial hardship, make less than 80 percent of Area Median Income, and demonstrate a risk of housing instability, such as a past-due utility or rent notice. Tenants must prove need with evidence like a hardship declaration, termination letter from their employer, pay stubs or tax documents.

Those who require assistance can reach out to organizations like Chinatown Community Development Center, Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, Causa Justa Just Cause, and Bill Sorro Housing Program, among others.

“The (San Francisco) application itself is simple, though perhaps deceptively so,” said Gen Fujioka, with the Anti-Displacement Coalition. “It’s not a transparent process. People should complete the application, be as frank as they can be and then they will get a response from The City relatively quickly.”

At least 1,800 people have applied for rent relief in San Francisco, with about half under review, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development reported Wednesday. An overwhelming majority of those seeking assistance are extremely low income, reported a loss of income, and many are in the southeast sector of The City, as well as the Tenderloin. Those who are approved may receive three months of back rent and three months for rent going forward.

A landlord urged officials during the hearing to “look at the big picture” of rent not being collected rather than the details of who has applied.

“Our local program was designed to target the most vulnerable households,” said Eric Shaw, MOHCD director. “Because this is not a first-come, first-serve program, we need to have some baseline data to understand who was applying initially.”

Under the state program, landlords are eligible to receive 80 percent of back rent, or tenants may receive 25 percent if landlords do not comply.

There have been reported issues with the length of the application, broken translations, and being dependent on landlord cooperation. Just $2.8 million has been released from the state to households.

“People have applied but money is really, really slow getting out the door,” said Matt Alexander, director of organizing for Faith in Action, a nonprofit that serves low-income Bay Area residents, who also serves on the school board. “All of this uncertainty and lack of commitment means that people are making decisions about their lives and how to survive. A lot of people are just deciding to leave, especially with the job market the way it is.”

The funds available for rent relief have become a point of contention with Supervisor Dean Preston and tenant advocates who call for the use of revenue from Proposition I, a real estate transfer tax approved in November. Additional local funds for rent relief aren’t included in Mayor London Breed’s proposed budget.

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