Laura Mellado, a community and SETA member, spoke in support of Cruz and other residents facing similar challenges at a Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco rally in Garfield Park on Thursday. Photo by Anlan Cheney.

A malfunctioning speaker and gusting wind did not silence a neighborhood rally for rent relief in Garfield Park Thursday evening. The message was still loud and clear: “We are not going to allow any more evictions,” declared facilitator and Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco (HRCSF) organizer Maria Jandres in Spanish. “We are not going to let our community be punished because they lost their jobs”.

The bilingual rally’s focal point was local resident Elena Cruz’s fight for rent relief. Cruz lost her job when the pandemic hit in March, 2020, and remains unemployed. She uses her savings to pay part of her rent and housing costs, and has updated her landlord on her efforts to get rent relief, a promise that has been delayed for many. 

Cruz’s apartment has been a home for her and her family, including a 16-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son, for 18 years. Addressing the Housing Rights Committee tenant association’s members, and others gathered in the park where her children played while growing up, Cruz reflected on their nearly two decades in the neighborhood. 

“Inside, my soul is torn, my heart is extremely sad. It is very difficult for me, as for my family, to find ourselves in this situation,” she said. “I don’t want to go, because it’s my home.”

Cruz submitted an application for California Covid-19 Rent Relief in April, and for a San Francisco program in July, to cover back and future rent. She still owes over $20,000 in rent, and no relief funds have been issued. 

Elena Cruz, a Mission resident, holds up letters from her landlord detailing their communication and eviction notices. Photo by Annika Hom. August 26, 2021.

Cruz also alleges harassment by her landlord who, despite regular communication from Cruz about pending rent relief, continues to send eviction notices and ignores Cruz’s communications. Copies of correspondence between Cruz and her landlord were provided at the rally, but the landlord could not be reached for comment. 

A petition was also circulated at the rally, seeking 30 signatures to urge Cruz’s landlord to end harassment and cooperate with her requests to claim rent relief. Some 50 people attended the rally, and 40 signed the petition.

“I feel powerless, because I cannot speak the same language [as my landlord]” said Cruz in Spanish, explaining that the HRCSF’s Southeast Tenant’s Association (SETA) helped her and other residents communicate with their landlords and reassured her of her rights, including drafting an English version of the petition letter. “I have found a lot of relief and a lot of strength in the association.”

In addition to alleged harassment by landlords and possible eviction, Cruz and other residents face the added stress of “shadow debt,” or money borrowed to pay rent and other living expenses, advocates said. With eviction protection funds in limbo and the eviction moratorium about to expire, Cruz and residents like her wonder what will happen if relief program promises come up short. 

Meanwhile, the Southeast Tenant’s Association is mobilizing to support renters, raise awareness of renters’ rights, and prevent self-evictions, which is when a tenant elects to leave their home without understanding their rights and ability to apply for rent relief. 

Maria Zamudio, the organizing director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco,  explained that Thursday was an important time to hold the rally, as federal unemployment benefits through the CARES Act and the eviction moratorium expire September 4 and 30, respectively. “We want to ensure the moratorium continues,” she said. “[Covid-19] is still raging, and people still need unemployment.”

Maria Jandres, an organizer with the Southeast group, underlined the importance of unity and neighborly support. “We’re demanding our elected officials to support our communities,” she said in English and Spanish. “We are showing that we have community, we are showing that [tenants] are not alone”.

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"Annie" is originally from Nebraska, where she found her calling to journalism as editor of her high school newsletter. Before returning to the field, she studied peace and political science in the Balkans, taught elementary and middle school, and worked as an epidemiologist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow her on Twitter @anlancheney.

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  1. another eviction story? she has a 21 year old son? does he live in the home, is he helping out with rent. does he speak English? does he work? how big is the rent? I’m trying to remember how much rent was 18 years ago for me, yes it was 1200 for a two bedroom. surely amazon has a job for him or for the mom. I always wonder why the details are left out in the eviction articles.

    1. Mortgage moratorium doesn’t do anything when the bill comes due all at once. How are landlords going to pay it? With the money tenants aren’t paying?

  2. Many people who don’t have defined benefit pensions or 401k plans rely on income property for their retirement. They are not rich. They are not slumlords. They are decent hardworking people who are not members of unions or civil servants guaranteed a pension. There’s no excuse for anyone to be out of work in a minimum wage job now but that’s besides the point. Not every apartment is owned by Mosser or Greentree.

  3. I was evicted on June 1st ( 3 months ago) and not for un paid rent but because he rented out my room to a woman at 20 yrs old and he had feelings for her. At that time he gave me a few weeks to leave and so with no place to go I found myself homeless and broke up until 2 weeks ago my boyfriend’s mom allowed us to stay here but our time has passed and now must go. At 57yrs old and bad health issues does this fall into the cares act as no one can be evicted? Please help cuz I’m not getting it

  4. Your anger is mis directed !! Would your family be willing to support another family’s living expenses for an unlimited time or even a year ???!!!
    The landlord is paying for property tax or they get a tax foreclosure. A mortgage maybe or they get foreclosed on by the mortgage company.
    Thet still have repairs and maintenance for these properties so they don’t lose value or get fined by the HOA.
    This is such an abusive strategy to put all this debt on the landlords and expect private citizens to pay for other private citizens living expenses.
    If you have time to hold up signs for endless hours , you have time to walk into a McDonald’s and ask for a job to pay this poor soul whose property you’re living in for FREE !!!

  5. If these people received any unemployment or any type of funds while they claim to have been off of work, should not get any help. Too many people got money and went shopping and did everything but pay their bills. I hope they actually check these people out first.

  6. During my working years I purchased a few properties for investment, expecting to rent (and properly maintain) them until retirement. My hope was that the return would be greater than that on my 401(k), and would help me get in a better retirement position following a financially disasterous divorce years ago. The rentals didn’t always generate a positive cash flow, but I suffered through believing these long term investments would provide significant returns once sold. I retired in 2019 and began selling. I could not afford to buy California property, so the units are in other states that don’t provide the kind of returns experienced in the bay area, but they are good, nonetheless. I can not imagine what I would do if a tenant refuses to move. I need the money to fund my retirement. I worked, sacrificed, saved and tried to be a good landlord, even when tenant stuck me with huge utility bills, significant property damage, used the courts to forestall eviction for nonpayment of rent, and trashed me on social media.
    Since moving back to California a few years ago to be near my family, I have been a renter while waiting to find and construct a home in a retirement community. It is NOT in California as I cannot afford the cost of living.
    Thank God I have only one property left to sell. After 10 yearsof owning it I will likely realize a $150k profit. It’s nothing like what we hear of in the bay area.
    I share all this to remind people that not all landlords are wealthy. Some of us are just trying to fund our meager existences in this life. My car is 21 years old, I have less than $4k credit card debt, I make my own coffee, buy groceries and cook my own meals, don’t have hair, nails, face or eyebrows maintained professionally, and I don’t buy soft or alcoholic beverages. There is no Hulu, Netflix or Amazon prime in my apartment, and I don’t have DoorDash or GrubHub on speed dial. I don’t have an Uber or Lyft account. These are luxuries I can’t afford.
    So, the next time you think that a landlord is being unfair to a non-paying tenant, think of me – the not rich landlord.
    NB: Once the pandemic hit and the rent moratoriums went into effect, I searched for and found a job that I could work remotely to provide income in the event a tenant stopped making payments. I was successful and the money earned has provided great relief. Unfortunately, I will have to pay 50% of my pandemic earnings to social security because I am on track to earn more than the social security limit. At least I will have enough saved that I won’t be at financial risk due to the payback requirement.
    Life is not ideal for most of us. We just need to be realistic about our circumstances and make decisions that can, potentially insulate us from financial disaster.

  7. I would think SETA would be savvy enough to demonize the slow distribution of rent relief funds rather than vilify landlords, many of whom are in tenuous financial situations themselves.

  8. Can’t get help with your rent what happened too all your unemployment check’s you got for the last year make too much too get rent releaf?

    1. My unemployment claims were pending for months before they finally got paid because I contacted my state representatives.

  9. News says SF City Hall has received mucho Federal pandemic money to pay struggling landlords many months ago. But, the money is not distributed, why… ?

  10. I agree that everyone has a right to have a home but with those rights comes responsibility. That includes paying rent. Instead of being upset with the landlords why not be upset with the people that are not sending the funds to your landlord for your back rent. I do not want and my intent is not to sound mean but it is not harassment for a landlord to inform a tenant that they are going to be evicted. Most states have laws that say you have to make the tenant aware. Why are the landlords the only group of people being demanded to give their product for free? Why do you not expect the same from grocery stores, gas stations, salons, any restaurant that you choose to enter, or anywhere you purchase any other items? This is not the fault of landlords. We have friends that are landlords and are losing everything because they still have to make their mortgage payments their taxes their insurance and maintenance. Again this isn’t to be mean but where are they supposed to turn for their lack of money? The banks aren’t forgiving loans so they will end up losing everything. Again I’m just saying that it seems to me if you have applied for rent relief and you are not getting it then that is where your frustration should lie.

  11. There is also financial assistance for landlords.

    Some really heartless racist comments here.

    There is a pandemic 😷 and people are dying. Everyone deserves health care and a place to live!

    Maybe 🤔 YOU are more fortunate? More affluent??

    Where is your community support and even more importantly – where is your EMPATHY?

    Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. What we need is more compassion.

    Peace ✌🏼 Out

  12. I’m being told to vacate and I have paid my rent. I have been up to date and landlord doesn’t care. He wants to sell his place. Realtors or landlords don’t realize everyone is suffering. If I’m put out I’m acceptable to Covid being disabled I’m Elderly and trying to survive. I understand what’s happening but no one cares or doesn’t matter. They laugh they raised rents and housing and make us have to depend on the state.

  13. This is one of the reasons why rent is so high in SF. People would rather leave the house empty than renting it out. Landlord has not been paid for more than a year and renters are protesting because they are mad that her landlord wants her out. This is just crazy.

  14. Absolutely! And..she is not leaving her home.She would be leaving her LANDLORD’S home that she has been using..and now essentially squatting in.

  15. There are lots of cheap or free housing everywhere in the US… Just go and live in a place you can afford…
    The landlord needs to pay his mortgage and taxes and repair… Your housing right does not supersede his livelihood rights.. Why would he go broke for you when you can find some other cheaper place to rent
    And covid is now such a bad excuse… There is no job shortage…

  16. Just like your family left Europe and came to America…oh by the way English is not the first and only language in America.

  17. So let’s see.. COVID happens and we should make one specific class/group of citizen responsible for shouldering the burden of providing housing for the ones that have lost their jobs. O yea, reimbursement is not guaranteed.. and yes it’s been a year, so let’s extend a bit more perhaps another half year.

    A moratorium was probably needed when a vaccine wasn’t readily available. It’s a different story now.

  18. thank you so much for this important article, anlan.

    housing is a fundamental human right. every human should have access to safe and secure housing and healthcare. and landlords harassment is illegal.

    bravo maria zamudio!

  19. Landlord hasn’t been paid in almost 1.5 years and these folks are victims? It’s not the landlords responsibility to keep people housed. Prop taxes, maintenance and mortgages are costs being absorbed by private citizens while these “emergency” measures are carried on indefinitely. If government keeps kicking the can, tenants won’t try to settle these debts with any urgency.

  20. Annie,

    Can you address what the issues are regarding the inability for many people to get rent relief. I keep hearing there ‘s something like $60 billion allocated for tenants to pay rent but it’s not being distributed.