Photo by Lola Chavez, May 7, 2020.

A new report reveals that half of the thousands of rent relief applications submitted by  San Francisco and Mission residents haven’t even been reviewed yet. 

The lag is particularly concerning, as state eviction protections expire next week, on April 1, meaning tenants with remaining Covid-19 rent debt can be evicted for non-payment. In response, the city’s local rent relief program will reopen on April 1, the Budget and Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors announced Wednesday. But it is unclear how quickly it will be able to come to the rescue.

“It’s crucial we get our own program up and running again,” said Brian Cheu of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. “These will be assisting those individuals who may be at risk for any unpaid rent prior to April 1.” 

So far, roughly 44 percent of the 1,400 applications from 94110, or the inner Mission, have been paid (of those, 14 percent had reapplied after payment for more money). Six percent await payment, and a staggering 50 percent are still “under review.” One application has been denied. 

The Policy Link report breaks down the status of rent relief applications by city, county and zip code. The data comes from the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which is in charge of processing and disbursing rent relief to residents.

Policy Link is a racial research institute focused on equity. The report shows that 42 percent of the 18,862 claims made in San Francisco have been paid. About six percent await disbursement, and 51 percent of applications await review. Citywide, roughly 13 applications have been denied. 

About $101 million has been paid to San Francisco applicants, representing slightly more than a third of the $289 million requested, according to Policy Link. 

Even with the revival of the local rent relief program, which the city quietly shut down last fall, supervisors and advocates urged San Franciscans to apply to the state’s before the program closes on March 31 to relieve the cost on the city. 

“The deadline is upon us. We know even the 62 million dollars is not enough to meet the need,” and “there is a huge financial benefit of having the state paying these,” said Supervisor Dean Preston at Wednesday’s budget meeting. “The more people we can get to apply to the [state program] before March 31, the better.”

Sharon Herrera, who leads the housing team for the Latino Task Force, said her group alone has helped submit roughly 900 state rent relief applications from residents in the Mission, Excelsior and Bayview. So far, about 400 have been approved, she said, raising concerns among tenants who fear eviction come April 1. 

Already, one Excelsior tenant narrowly escaped eviction proceedings twice this month, Herrera said. The resident accrued $12,000 in covid debt in 2020, but then got a job and has paid rent on time ever since. Although he applied for funds and his application is pending, his landlord sent him an eviction notice, and he was listed on the sheriff’s eviction list. (Only the sheriff can enforce evictions.) Herrera and the Latino Task Force advocated for the tenant, and reminded the sheriff that protections are still in place until April 1; the sheriff’s office agreed to relent, but added it can’t do the same next month. 

“He is trying to see his options and what he can do,” Herrera said. “Even in San Francisco, once you carry a record of an eviction, it just gets harder for the individual to find a place to live.” 

The state department prioritizes certain applications based on likelihood of eviction, how much they earn, and date of submission. Time is also required to verify applications, and sometimes applicants or landlords may be slow to respond, the department said in response to questions from Mission Local.

Statewide eviction protections technically ended Oct. 1, but state law dictated that landlords couldn’t evict tenants with outstanding debts if they had applied for the state’s rent relief up to March 31, 2022. If debts remain after that, tenants can be legally evicted. 

According to Maika Pinkston, the executive director of local nonprofit From the Heart that works in Bayview, plenty of residents are awaiting payments for rent relief and utilities, which the state also promised to pay off. 

Problems processing applications extend across the state: A National Equity Atlas, a data tool developed by Policy Link and the USC Equity Research Institute, released a  report earlier this month that suggests only 16 percent of the 490,000 Californians who applied for rent relief have physically received payments. The California Department of Housing and Community Development, which runs the state rent relief program, denied this. The state’s own dashboard states it has paid approximately 44 percent of households roughly $2.4 billion in funds.

The state department did not directly answer Mission Local’s inquiries for the discrepancy. A spokesperson provided a statement citing that 215,000 households have received about $2.47 billion in funds. On average, each household receives $11,000 per household. 

“As such, CA COVID-19 Rent Relief has been able to accelerate payments and ensure that all eligible applications seeking assistance incurred on or before March 31 will be paid,” the statement continued. 

On top of processing issues, language and disability barriers still persist. As Mission Local reported last fall, the advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus sued the state’s housing department for failing to properly provide translated rent relief materials, despite that many immigrants on both tenant and landlord sides wish to use it. 

For example, tenants still receive emails back from landlords or the state liaisons in English, even though it’s not their first language. This causes delay on the tenants’ application, and thus their money, said Niketa Kumar, the spokesperson for AAAJ and Asian Law Caucus. 

And the breakdown in communication may continue as evictions occur. Just last month, a Filipino tenant in San Francisco was sent instructions about eviction protections, but the translation made it sound like how to “aid eviction,” causing confusion and alarm, Kumar said. 

“As the deadline is approaching, the persisting language barriers are underscoring the real need to extend the program and fix these issues,” Kumar said. 

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REPORTER. 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 on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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