The city’s Housing Stabilization Program, created to offer rent assistance during the pandemic, takes too long and helps too few people, members of Faith in Action Bay Area said on Friday.
So far, the $6.3 million rental program has allocated assistance to 1,443 people, according to a report by City Controller Ben Rosenfield. The demand, however, is much greater with some 9,000 applicants requesting $42 million in rental assistance.
Applicants received an average of $4,000 with a cap of $10,000, according to Rosenfield’s report. Five different community organizations are distributing the funds.
Sonia Alvarenga López, who spoke at the Friday demonstration at the 16th and Mission BART Plaza, said she stopped paying rent in March and applied for rental assistance in July. Her job at a Moscone Center cleaning company ended in February.
About three months passed before Catholic Charities San Francisco, one of the five program operators, contacted her offering to pay four months of her rent, López said. Another month passed before she received the money.
To verify her joblessness and missed rent, the organization gave her a list of documents to print out, sign and send back, including statements from both her former boss and landlord. López had two weeks to return all of her documents.
Moreover, she had to sign a document saying she would pay an additional 25 percent of her monthly rent beginning in March 2021 to pay off the nine months of rent she would still owe. This means López’s rent will effectively increase from $1,250 per month to $1,562.50 for over a year.
“I don’t know when I’m returning to work so I don’t know how I’m going to pay that,” López said.
But she signed anyway, because she needed the money and was told she would not get anything unless she signed.
“We pray that the ears and the eyes of city leaders will be open to the suffering of the people in this city, the city that says it’s a sanctuary city,” said Joanna Shenk, a pastor from First Mennonite Church of San Francisco.
Although applications are reviewed every two to three weeks according to the program’s website, Matt Alexander, a community organizer for Faith in Action Bay Area, said that some applicants waited more than four months without hearing back.
Alexander also said that for the first few months of the program, the application was only available in English, and a Spanish version only became available in September or October. The application is not currently offered in languages other than English and Spanish.
Alexander and others would like to see a faster, more streamlined process in which the city requires only an ID and a letter from the applicant’s landlord instead of one from both the landlord and employers.
Moreover, Alexander said, applicants should not have to sign a legal document on repaying back rent when they are unsure whether they will have a job.
“I’ve decided to raise my voice to the indifference of public services,” said Donato Martinez, who lost his job at a bakery at the start of the pandemic. “I applied in August but until now haven’t received any response,” he said.
Faith in Action Bay Area members met with representatives from the offices of Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Shamann Walton to express their concerns, according to Alexander. The representatives seemed eager to help the specific people whose cases were used as examples, “but there didn’t seem to be a sense of solving the systemic problems,” Alexander said.
The city’s Covid Command Center sent Mission Local a statement saying that, “nearly 70% of the financial assistance disbursed through the Give2SF Housing Stabilization Program has gone to Latinx households” and that they were, “doing our best to serve the ever-increasing need” and working to find more rent relief funding.
It’s unclear whether the program, supported by charitable contributions to Give2SF, will be renewed or extended.