Low-income households that have fallen behind on rent can turn to the State and SLO County for help getting caught up.
County Supervisors agreed to participate in a State program to distribute over $17.5 million that was allocated last December in one of the COVID relief packages passed by Congress and the Trump Administration.
“On Dec. 27, 2020,” reads a report by Guy Savage of the County Administrative Office, “the Federal Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill, was signed into law and $25 billion was allocated to the United States Treasury for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to assist households that are unable to pay rent or utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
SLO County immediately got $8.4M and Savage said they’re entitled to another $9.1M coming out of the State’s federal allocation.
At the end of last January, the State passed “The COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act” (Senate Bill 91) which extended protections against evictions. SB-91 was due to expire Feb. 1 but was extended through June 30. SB-91 also set up a State system to distribute the $2.6 billion in ERAP monies it received.
SB-91 gave counties with more than 200,000 population (including SLO County) three options on how to divvy out the money: join the “State Rental Assistance Program” and put out the Federal monies through it; have the money put into a “State Block Grant” program subject to numerous regulations; or, self-administer the federal money and let the State deal with the local jurisdictions (cities) and their allocations.
Supervisors in February formed a sub-committee with Dist. 2’s Bruce Gibson and Dist. 3’s Dawn Ortiz-Legg volunteering. The subcommittee decided the first option of turning over the money to the State Rental Program was best for SLO County.
It came down to logistics. “Option A was selected,” Savage said, “in large part due to concerns by the County and its local partners about their ability to administer a $17 million program over such a short period. Many were concerned with the ability to hire enough staff and put the required systems in place within required timelines.
“Additionally, concerns were raised about ramping up such a large program only to have to ramp it back down a few months later.”
The State Rental Assistance Program can also help with utility bills that may have piled up while people have been ordered to stay-at-home and unable to work for over a year now. So who’s eligible?
“The program focus is to stabilize low-income households,” Savage said, “through the payment of rental arrears to landlords. Eligibility is targeted at households at or below 80% ‘Area Median Income’ [AMI] and prioritizes those under 50% AMI. Participating landlords will be compensated 80% of unpaid rent.”
The rub is that landlords must write off that remaining 20%, accepting the program’s payout as “payment in full.”
Landlords don’t have to participate and if they don’t, the program can still award a qualifying tenant 25% of the back rent that’s owed, according to Savage’s report. Landlords and tenants can start applying for the program now.
“The funding,” Savage said, “will mitigate financial hardships and offset losses experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic and should speed the economic recovery within our region.”
The State Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency’s website, is at: www.bcsh.ca.gov/covidrelief to get information on this.