District 5 Sup. Dean Preston speaks at a Yes on Proposition 15 rally outside the building at 555 California St. on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.District 5 Sup. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

District 5 Sup. Dean Preston speaks at a Yes on Proposition 15 rally outside the building at 555 California St. on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.District 5 Sup. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco renters could avoid looming eviction cliff, if Supes approve relief proposal

San Franciscans may avoid the eviction cliff looming in front of other California renters if extended protections proposed by Supervisor Dean Preston this week gain approval from the larger Board.

Under current state law, renters who were financially impacted by the pandemic have been allowed to pay just a quarter of their rent and not face eviction. But that benefit expires on June 30. With little appetite on the state level to extend protections under Senate Bill 91, tenants and advocates have anxiously awaited what’s become known as “the eviction cliff” as rent relief has yet to reach many of those in need.

Under legislation introduced by Preston on Tuesday and announced Wednesday, San Francisco renters would continue to be able to pay 25 percent of their rent until the end of the year. The upcoming expiration of SB 91 means local jurisdictions are once again free to enact their own eviction moratorium measures.

While Preston isn’t taking its passage for granted, Mayor London Breed has ordered and extended emergency eviction moratoriums while the Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved legislation building on those orders. Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved an extension on no-fault evictions, like those stemming from owner move-ins and renovations, until September.

“People continue to be struggling as a result of the pandemic and are just starting to find their footing,” Preston told the Examiner. “This is a pretty big undertaking to get all these funds out quickly. The last thing we need is this pressure on everyone of evictions occurring while this is all being sorted out.”

The legislation would give tenants more time to remain in their homes while rent relief is slowly doled out to landlords while preserving public health, Preston said. One version of the legislation is an emergency law, which can only last 60 days, and one conducted in the usual board process that will allow protections until Dec. 31.

San Francisco tenants accumulated an estimated $81 million to $196 million in unpaid rent during the first six months alone of the coronavirus shutdowns, according to a Budget and Legislative Analyst report from October. The process for tenants to obtain rent relief through the state has been criticized as slow, cumbersome, and filled with barriers.

Elena Cruz, who has been out of work since March, applied for relief through the state program but has not received any notifications about it. This week, she received a letter from her landlord that she must immediately move to pay $18,000 in back rent or vacate her home of 18 years, said Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco southeast organizer Maria Jandres.

“She’s experiencing a lot of trauma,” Jandres said, translating from Spanish for Cruz. “We’re already receiving these notices and we’re in May. We really, really need to do something to make sure San Franciscans are staying in their homes.”

Breed said on Monday that San Francisco’s emergency rent assistance program will begin accepting applications on Friday. The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development will be able to disperse a portion of $90 million obtained through federal assistance to tenants in need but have a little over a month until the June 30 deadline.

“This has been a year of challenges unlike anything we’ve faced before, and the economic fallout of the pandemic has been devastating for so many businesses and employees,” Breed said in a statement. “This rent relief is critical to helping tenants and small property owners get back on their feet as we continue on with our economic recovery. It’s absolutely crucial that we keep people in their homes, and this funding will help ensure that happens.”

Tenants who can demonstrate financial hardship may apply for three months back rent and six months of rent moving forward through sf.gov/renthelp.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly difficult for vulnerable tenants and housing providers who have struggled with missed rent and deferred mortgage payments,” said Charley Goss, government and community affairs manager for the San Francisco Apartment Association. “Now that local rental assistance is here, it’s critically important that housing providers and their renters in underserved communities are able to access and navigate the program quickly and easily.”

But a political battle has emerged over providing additional rent relief. Proposition I, a tax on real estate sales over $10 million passed by voters in November, was campaigned upon as going to rent relief and affordable housing. About $10 million from the revenue has been approved for rent relief with another budget supplemental awaiting approval.

Prop. I has raised $58.5 million since taking effect in January, according to the Controller’s Office. Though it’s considered a highly volatile source of income, it’s expected to rise with the high-profile $800 million sale of PG&E’s downtown headquarters.

Tenants and advocates have urged Breed to use the funds as intended for the upcoming fiscal year. She has maintained she would not approve any additional budget allocations until her budget is rolled out on June 1.

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