Pilot program will help small S.F. businesses pay pandemic-incurred back rent

Office of Economic and Workforce Development to administer grants up to $35,000

By Bay City News

A pilot program in San Francisco will provide relief to small businesses that have unpaid back rent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the COVID-19 Small Business Rent Relief Pilot Program, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development will administer grants of up to $35,000 for businesses that qualify.

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí authored the ordinance to create the program, with Mayor London Breed approving it and allocating $2 million to fund it.

“Small businesses in San Francisco have a long road to recovery,” Safaí said in a statement. “While you may still see your favorite local business open, it doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling to make ends meet. The COVID-19 Small Business Rent Relief Pilot Program is designed to help small businesses that have unpaid commercial back rent sustain their business for the future.”

The Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Legislative Analyst estimates that due to the pandemic, the total commercial back rent owed in San Francisco amounts to more than $500 million.

“So many of our restaurants, cafes and bars were closed for months, incurring significant rent liabilities without incoming revenue to help pay for it,” said Laurie Thomas, Golden Gate Restaurant Association executive director. “This program will provide a lifeline to those in our community who are facing closures without the ability to access financial assistance.”

According to Safaí, business owners could use the grants to pay a portion of back rent and negotiate the rest with the landlord. The grants aim to help businesses that have received little to no relief funds from the federal government.

The need for relief comes after a statewide commercial eviction moratorium enacted at the start of the pandemic by Gov. Gavin Newsom ended in September.

City officials are deciding on eligibility requirements, and anticipate launching grant applications at the end of February.

Businesses interested in applying to the program can find updates at www.oewd.org/evictionhelp.

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