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.

Just weeks before the Sept. 30 sunset of the California eviction moratorium, San Francisco intends to curtail its local rent relief program and instead funnel applicants to a state program, Mission Local has learned. 

This pending but yet-to-be-announced move was confirmed by a half-dozen tenant organizers, as well as the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. 

Some tenants rights organizers welcomed this move, figuring that consolidating efforts into a single program would get money out the door faster. Others, however, worry that this will slow down the dissemination of money to needy renters when they require it most because the local program, they said, had fewer barriers than its state equivalent, and tended to pay up faster.  

Concern is heightened, knowing San Franciscans need money fast; state law requires residents must pay at least 25 percent of total rent owed since September, 2020, by the end of September, 2021, or risk eviction. 

Previously, San Franciscans seeking rent relief could request funds through the state’s Housing is Key program or the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Often, applicants submitted to both. 

City and state leaders, however, are in conversation to shift control to the state’s program. As of Thursday, Aug. 26, new applicants seeking the city program were directed to the state. 

So far, more than $120 million from both city and state programs has been committed to more than 5,000 San Francisco applicants, according to the Mayor’s Office of Housing. 

Backers of this move said it’s a means of capitalizing on the state’s tranche of rent relief funds, which haven’t all been claimed and can be reallocated if a certain amount is not committed by Nov. 1. The local program will ostensibly resume once “all federal funds for emergency rental assistance have been expended,” reads a statement from the Mayor’s Office of Housing.  

Handing the reins to state authorities and consolidating the process could accelerate essential rent distribution, according to a Mayor’s Office of Housing statement sent to Mission Local. 

“Submitting applications through one single application portal at housingiskey.org ensures the City can fully utilize the State’s capacity to process applications in a timely manner,” it read.

Yet other advocates who declined to speak on the record until the decision was publicly announced, criticized the move. They said the shift not only freezes a program that was succeeding, but could potentially add more bureaucracy and delay the much-needed payments at the worst time.

A June Budget and Legislative Analyst’s report approximates San Francisco’s total unpaid rent falls between $147 million and $355 million. So far, only a fraction of that has been claimed. 

Despite the need and urgency, not all of the qualified households have applied. Multiple tenant advocates attributed that to a befuddling process rife with barriers for subtenants, roommates, non-English speakers, the undocumented, and low-income residents. 

“Both the local and the state aren’t working fast enough, and people are afraid of losing their homes,” said Lorena Melgarejo, the executive director of Faith in Action Bay Area, a network of religious congregations which has organized for rent relief. 

Focusing on one singular state application could resolve some of this, said Roberto Hernandez, the housing chair for the Latino Task Force — especially considering that many households apply to both. 

“What this is going to allow, is for San Franciscans to be served more quickly before the looming eviction cliff takes place,” Hernandez said, adding he expects the application approvals to speed up. “They are going to be processed like Hot Cheetos. It’s a huge victory.” 

Molly Goldberg, the staff director for San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition, partially agreed; dealing with one application instead of two could be beneficial. “For some people, it will simplify the process,” she said. 

Other tenant advocates remain outright skeptical. “I think it seems like there’s still optimism that we can get everything going in one month. But it’s hard to go on faith, given everything that’s gone wrong so far,” said Shanti Singh, the communications and legislative director with Tenants Together. 

“It wasn’t as bad as the beginning,” continued Singh, acknowledging improvements made to the state’s program. “But still we’re running out of time.” 

Details are murky, and it’s unclear exactly when the change will take effect or be announced. When Mission Local asked the Mayor’s Office of Housing, it did not directly respond. 

The state website no longer directs users to the local program, Goldberg said. However, the city’s rent program page is still up.

Those who already applied and were approved to the city program but haven’t been paid will receive 100 percent of the requested funds, according to the Mayor’s Office of Housing. The office added that new applicants should expect payment within five weeks of a completed application.

Ruth Barajas, the head of the Latino Task Force Hubs, said the Hub staff already tracked down hundreds of clients who aren’t yet approved for the state’s Housing is Key program and encouraged them to initiate applications. 

Barajas feels optimistic, but said that maintaining the local program’s level of efficiency and communication could be a “challenge” during the switch. The Hub staff constantly checks in on its vulnerable local clients, and they often call back with questions about pending applications; she’s unsure what the change will bring.

Between 13,000 and 33,000 San Francisco households lag on rent payments, according to the Budget Analyst’s June report. 

In the past, frequent changes and barriers to the state and local rent relief programs adversely affected tenants who applied. Thousands of residents who asked for rent assistance in 2020 via the city’s Give2SF Housing Stabilization Program had their applications tossed out. 

Goldberg pointed out that some obstacles in the state program haven’t yet been resolved, like electronic-only applications. “The state’s going to do a lot more work to rebuild trust with people and help to access this program,” she said. 

Apply for rent relief here

The San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition offers a text service that provides updates and changes to the program. Text 1-888-732-3215 with the word RENT or RENTA if you want the information in Spanish. 

To apply for rent relief in person, people can visit the Latino Task Force Hub or other sites at the following locations:

Mission

701 Alabama St.
Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Excelsior

4834 Mission St.
Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Bayview

1329 Evans St.
Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

1800 Oakdale Ave.
Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Or, contact them at (415) 532-7275 or LTFhub@gmail.com.

Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this article! I was just told yesterday about this change when I went in person but so far no other information is on the internet!

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