Sonia Alvarenga (left) speaks to a crowd at the 16th and Mission BART Plaza on Friday, Dec. 18. Photo by Juan Carlos Lara

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. 

Members of Faith in Action Bay Area stopped to pray near the start of their demonstration. Photo by Juan Carlos Lara.

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. 

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  1. Just curious as to why she stopped paying rent altogether, and she is behind nine months, when there was additional unemployment bonus given $600 every week for a few months. So what happened to the additional financial help already extended by government to her. I doubt that she would have been making more than her unemployment and the addt’l $600/week, prior to pandemic. I understand being more compassionate, but I am on the same boat, but has learned to tighten my belt more and not live beyond my current means. She may have other dependents, but we were also provided with a little bit from the stimulus. If anything she has already received more than most people have. And it is only logical that they require documents to support your application for financial aid, it maybe a slow process but it is better than nothing.

      1. You could write an article about undocumented workers and how they -might- be employed by a cleaning company that- might- contract with major buildings and facilities. What they pay in payroll taxes and what benefits they don’t get (unemployment, sick pay, medical insurance?).

        I’m not a fan of working outside the “system” – there’s too many downsides (no safety net benefits at all) but I know there are about four sides to the argument.

  2. Are there efforts to reduce property tax payments? How are small landlords supposed to survive with rents being canceled?

  3. I’m unclear on who is actually the bad guy. When I look online the City of San Francisco site takes me directly to Give2SfHousing. And then I learn that the funds are private donations not City of SF money, then your article tells me the “operators” are four private non-profits. So it looks like the City of San Francisco (“ears and the eyes of city leaders”?) is not the problem but the “indifference of public services” has to do with some non-profit operations. Who exactly are people complaining about and did the non-profits running the money have anything to say?

  4. Wait, she’s being given free money and is complaining about there being some strings attached? The level entitlement is unbelievable!

    1. She doesn’t have a job… Imagine how you’d feel if your rent was raised and you had no income, finding a job in these times is incredibly difficult so put yourself in her shoes. Your lack of compassion is unbelievable.

      1. @Ale, Mu point isn’t a lack of empathy for her situation, rather it’s about the ungratefulness for the fact that some strangers are willing to step up and give money to a fellow neighbor to pay their rent.

        There are plenty of companies hiring in San Francisco:

        Or these companies hiring for remote jobs for example…

        Now whether or not someone is qualified for or willing to do certain jobs is another question, but there’s no question that there are plenty of jobs available right now. I know that a lot of workers have been pretty pleased with the money they’re making from the $600/week in *extra* unemployment benefits that have been doled out recently, but those benefits (while still including hundreds in supplemental funds) are diminishing (I believe now it’s going to be $300 in supplemental benefits on top of regular unemployment).

        A lot of constituents are making sacrifices and hurting right now… from individual workers to small local shops and restaurants that are going out of business and yes, even small property owners struggling to pay their mortgage when people stop paying their rent for 9 months.

        I don’t believe that those who are receiving thousands of dollars in significant financial assistance should be ungrateful for the help.

      2. “if your rent was raised and you had no income”

        We weren’t given the details about her rent situation or the agreement she obligated herself to; my understanding is that rent (in SF) isn’t collectable until some future date (TBD) – and she may not have to pay that increased rent either! Of course at that time it will ‘all’ come due; so this relief measure is a help in that respect. And she is free to refuse this deal, no? There are 7500 ppl in line behind her that might like a shot at it – that might find it helps their particulars.

        It seems that the woman is reacting to a future event that may not happen. She is assuming she will NOT have a job, and is basing her grievance upon that. That could be a self-fulfilling prophesy; but is that the fault of the program?

        I think what the story misses about the program and the situation (aside from the slowness of response, which is endemic with so much in this pandemic) is a way to elucidate for ppl who are in a similar situation (which is what exactly?) of what alternatives are available. It just covers one side of a story of someone with a complaint.

        Outrage first! Facts at 11.