With the state pulling the plug on rent relief, San Francisco is readying to pick up the slack amid continuing anxiety over a possible wave of evictions.
On Thursday, Lt. Gov Eleni Kounalkis signed legislation extending statewide eviction protections, which expire March 31, but only for those tenants who have applied for state rent relief by that day. The extension lasts until July 1, but the bill includes a catch: a clause that will pre-empt San Francisco’s ability to enact another local eviction moratorium of its own during this three month period. San Francisco’s last moratorium expired last December 31.
Kounalkis signed the bill in place of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is in Central America on vacation with his family.
In response, San Francisco is planning to reopen its own local relief funds. But the current status of relief disbursements paint an uncertain picture of the total outstanding need.
To date, 9,795 San Francisco households have collectively received $111 million in rent relief through the state’s program, which was plagued by inefficiencies in distributing the funds. There are still 10,608 San Francisco households whose applications are still being processed by the state, though that number also includes ineligible or duplicate applicants.
To make matters more complicated, the California Housing and Community Development Department reportedly asked legislators to extend the moratorium for an additional month beyond July 1, saying it may not have enough time to process applications submitted by March 31. Legislators ignored the request, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
Meanwhile, San Francisco is moving to restart a dormant local relief program on April 1, according to the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development.
To date, the city has distributed $21.1 million of an initial $25 million in funding from the federal government that was directed into a local relief pool, according to the mayor's housing office. There are still 404 applications reflecting $3.9 million in relief being processed as of this week, the office reported.
Mayor London Breed announced last May that the federal government was sending San Francisco $90 million for its local rent relief program, but in September 2021, the city opted to roll the local relief effort into the state’s program.
Asked whether they expecting an influx of additional applications, an agency spokesperson wrote in an email: “The City is prepared to deploy our local program infrastructure–which is low-barrier, community-based, culturally responsive, practitioner-informed, and leverages the Tenant Right to Counsel program–to meet the rental assistance needs of the City's residents on April 1st."
The end result may be continued anxiety for tenants, especially those who have had difficulty making rent during the pandemic.
“It feels like a slap in the face because San Francisco was running its local program but they rolled it into the state program,” said Shanti Singh, a spokesperson for the nonprofit housing rights group Tenants Together. “The shutting off of the state rental relief program is a disastrous decision.”
The Mayor’s Office of Housing continues to advise concerned tenants to apply to the state program while they still can.
“We continue to urge everyone in need of rent relief to apply to the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program before the end of today, 3/31,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “The State has committed to serving all eligible applicants who apply and a pending application provides protection against eviction under AB 2179.”