At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mission residents, Margarita, 44, and Miriam, 59, lost their restaurant jobs.
As a result, both found themselves in a precarious housing situation, and were unable to pay rent for the first time. After hearing about Give2SF COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, a citywide rent relief program, they filled out an application.
Each were eligible and successfully applied to the program, receiving a confirmation number through email on Dec. 9, 2020, though, neither received a callback or notification, and have yet to receive any financial rental assistance.
“We tried, but there’s no guarantee,” said Margarita, a single occupant for over 20 years in the Mission. “We are very worried about not having a place to live,” she said.
Margarita and Miriam asked that their full names not be published out of fear of retribution from their landlords, whom they say has given them a verbal warning to “pay or quit.”
Vulnerable to the threat of eviction, Margarita and Miriam, originally migrants from South America—Mexico and Peru, respectively—say they are reluctant to apply for any further help, stating that they think their landlords “don’t want to accept any government assistance.”
While volunteering together at the Mission Food Hub, the two friends have said they would be interested in signing up to receive some type of help, but weren’t feeling optimistic because of their previous experience.
What Is Senate Bill 91
To promote housing stabilization for those facing COVID-19 related financial hardships, state legislators passed Senate Bill 91 (S.B. 91), a set of rental protections and relief programs between tenants and landlords.
As eviction looms for tens of thousands of California residents, S.B. 91 will extend the 2020 California Tenants Relief Act eviction moratorium for non-payments of rental units due from March 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. Tenants will still have to pay the past due rent, but the bill protects tenants from being evicted for COVID-19 related non-payments during this timeframe.
If you have COVID-19 related rental debt, state law protects tenants who provide a “declaration of COVID-19 related financial distress” to your landlord within 15 days of receiving an eviction notice. That declaration form can be found on the California State’s website at housing.ca.gov.
The bill also states that for unpaid rent from Sept. 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, landlords cannot evict tenants for nonpayment of rent if the tenant signs a “declaration” and pays 25 percent of “all rental payments due from September 2020 through June, 2021.”
Tenants who submit a declaration may be asked to provide proof of COVID-19 related financial income loss, for example, proof of direct health impacts and indirect economic impacts related to job or income loss. U.S. Citizenship is not a requirement to be eligible.
If tenants are below 130 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), a signed copy of declaration is all that is needed to stop an eviction.
In addition, S.B. 91 states that landlords must send a notice about the changes in the law to all residents who owe one or more rental payments due between March 1, 2020 and February 1, 2021. Landlords must have supplied residents with a blank copy of declaration notice by Feb. 28, 2021, if not, any eviction could be unlawful.
State’s New Rental Assistance Program Under SB91
With the intention to alleviate tensions for rental non-payments, S.B. 91 establishes a new rental assistance program, which allows tenants and landlords to strike a deal that would provide 80 percent reimbursement of past due rent owed to the landlord, if the landlord agrees to forgive 20 percent of rent owed.
If the landlord does not agree to the program, tenants can still apply to potentially receive a direct-to-tenant pay of up to 25 percent of rent owed.
The City and County of San Francisco has received $28 million in federal funding that adhere to the statewide provisions of SB91, which are currently available to all California residents. Applicants can apply through the housingiskey.com, or call 833-430-2122 toll free.
Separate San Francisco Rent Relief Program
The Mayor’s Office Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) is in the process of creating a citywide usage of $26 million and will pair with non-profit organizations to administer resources to San Francisco residents who meet a “vulnerability threshold,” said MOHCD Program Manager Hugo Ramirez.
Plans to roll out the program are set for late May or early June, according to Community Development Program Manager Hugo Ramirez at MOHCD.
But will the rollout be enough to prevent mass displacement?
According to a San Francisco’s budget and legislative report from October 2020, the cost of unpaid residential rent for the first six months of the pandemic was estimated between 81 million and 196 million dollars per month.
The lead organizer at the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, Brad Hirn, believes the nearly $56 million of funding is “woefully inadequate” to the scale of debt facing San Francisco renters.
Along with “inadequate” funding, S.B. 91 is structured in a way that is “ripe for abuse” from larger landlords who have more resources to apply for assistance, similar to the abuse uncovered through the Paycheck Payment Program (PPP) Loans, says Hirn.
“Without state and federal support, renters would face insurmountable debt because of the pandemic, and the potential for mass evictions was terrifying,” said Mission District Supervisor, Hillary Ronen, who first started “sounding the alarm” a year ago.
Welcoming the federal assistance, Ronen called the rules governing the state’s program “disappointing,” and that they “clearly favor landlords and don’t do enough to protect longtime rent-controlled tenants,” in an email to El Tecolote.
“I am watching closely to make sure that the federal funds we get locally are prioritized to give relief to the most vulnerable tenants, to small landlords, and to our affordable housing providers,” said Ronen.
Editor’s note: This article is not intended to be used as legal advice, and doesn’t not cover all provisions under Senate Bill 91. If you or anyone you know has experienced COVID-19 related financial distress and think you may be eligible for the new rental assistance program, go to housingiskey.com or call the toll free number 833-430-2122 to apply.