By Olivia Wynkoop
San Francisco renters have hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid rent costs accrued since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now many are worried they’ll be evicted without the help of continued rental assistance from the city.
Supervisor Dean Preston, joined by advocacy groups Anti-Displacement Coalition and Faith in Action and local tenants at a news conference on Wednesday, urged Mayor London Breed to allocate funds from a recent ballot measure to help renters.
“We are looking at hundreds of millions of dollars in rent debt that is hanging over the heads of San Francisco renters, with an eviction cliff looming: all eviction protections set to expire on June 30,” Preston said. “It is not enough for us as government officials locally or at the state to eventually solve this, we have to solve this right now. People cannot continue to survive with the uncertainty of not knowing when rent relief will arrive.”
The advocates pointed to the $50 million in tax revenue from Prop. I that is yet to be used. The proposition, a real estate transfer tax, passed last November with the intent to use the money raised to pay back residents’ overdue rent costs from the pandemic.
Now Preston, among others, wants to see that intent as a line item on Breed’s budget due on June 1. These funds are free from the limitations of state and federal bureaucracy, according to Preston.
“It’s money that can get out the door immediately. And we absolutely need it,” Preston said.
Kurtis Wu, outreach coordinator for the Bill Sorro Housing Program, said that his organization receives dozens of calls a day from people on the verge of eviction and in desperate need of rental assistance.
“Many of the people we hear from are people of color, are seniors, (or) low-income, undocumented people who have illness. These are literally the most vulnerable people of our community,” Wu said. “This is a crisis, and I know that word gets thrown around a lot, but this literally is the textbook definition of a crisis.”
One 15-year resident of San Francisco, Sonia Alvarenga, said she’s struggled to find work during the pandemic. She now owes 10 months of rent, which adds up to $15,000. In Spanish, she urged public officials to listen to renters who have been struggling throughout this pandemic.
“I don’t have any help, but I do have hope that you can help us stay in our homes, to live with dignity and without fear of being evicted,” Alvarenga said. “When you hear about my situation, please remember that there are many living in similar situations.”