City Council approves $15.1 million rental assistance, renews eviction moratorium

By MAKENA HUEY | Downtown & Uptown News  

San Diego City Council approved a $15.1 million rent relief program and extended the eviction moratorium Tuesday to help residents who are struggling financially due to the coronavirus. 

During the virtual meeting, councilmembers unanimously voted to use a portion of the $248 million Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act federal funding to establish the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program between the City of San Diego and the San Diego Housing Commission.  

Almost two-thirds of local renters are low or extremely low income. This program aims to help approximately 3,500 qualifying individuals and families who have suffered a substantial decrease in income due to the pandemic.  

The program will provide one-time payments of up to $4,000 per qualifying household to cover approximately two-and-a-half months of past-due and/or upcoming rent, said District 3 Policy Director Kathleen Ferrier, who presented the proposal. The Housing Commission will administer the money directly to rental property owners or management companies beginning in late August or early September 2020. 

To be eligible for financial assistance, one must have a City of San Diego address and a gross household income of less than 60% of the area median income as of January 1, 2020. One must also have experienced financial hardship directly related to the coronavirus.  

Qualified recipients living in tax credit units will receive a maximum of $2,000. Unauthorized immigrants and those receiving Section 8 assistance are not eligible. 

Applications for the program will be online via the Official San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) Website, and priority will be given to individuals who submit the application during the first two weeks as well as to households with children or people 62 and over. Recipients will then be decided based on a lottery system. 

District 3 Councilmember Chris Ward — who proposed the program with $61.9 million in funding originally — said he recognizes the difficult situation many families are currently facing due to the pandemic, including unemployment. 

 “This is certainly going to be a necessary piece in the puzzle to be able to move forward in preventing large scale homelessness,” Ward said. “We may not be able to help everybody, but we are going to continue to work for more funds, and just getting this program up and running is going to probably position us ahead of other communities across the country.” 

Councilmembers also authorized the extension of the eviction moratorium — which was slated to expire Wednesday — through Sept. 30, 2020. This ordinance temporarily prohibits landlords from evicting residential and commercial tenants for non-payment of rent due to financial difficulties related to COVID-19. 

 Renters and small business owners must notify their landlord in writing, on or before the day the rent is due, that they are unable to pay. They then have up to one week to provide evidence that the pandemic impacted them financially. 

In a 5-4 vote, councilmembers Jennifer Campbell, Georgette Gomez, Monica Montgomery, Vivian Moreno and Chris Ward voted for the extension, while councilmembers Barbara Bry, Chris Cate, Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman voted against it.  

“Without rent payments, entire apartment complexes could be shuttered and renters put out on the streets or living in apartments that are not properly maintained,” said Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry. “By itself, our city can’t enforce or fund an eviction moratorium or rent forgiveness that continues for months.” 

Ward agreed and said it is important to determine exactly when this moratorium will end. 

 “The most important thing is that we cannot have people fall into homelessness and we do have the power to be able to locally make sure that we are preventing evictions.” 

— Makena Huey is a senior at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, pursuing a major in English and minor in journalism. The San Diego native was the editor-in-chief of Currents magazine and is currently the managing editor of the Graphic newspaper.