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San Diego Region Slow To Send Rent, Utility Relief To Struggling Tenants Facing Eviction

 June 1, 2021 at 10:31 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:01 Rent relief for tenants and landlords hit financially during the pandemic could be a huge benefit for many struggling San Diego ones. If they could actually get it. KPBS is investigative news partner. I, new source says of the $200 million the region has received in rental relief. Only 2% of the money was spent as of this may red tape and access problems have hampered the program so much. Local housing agencies are calling for reforms. And joining me is I knew source reporter Cody, Delaney, Cody, welcome to the show. Speaker 2: 00:37 Hey, thanks for having me Speaker 1: 00:39 Now, the bare bones of these state and federal rent relief programs are pretty similar. What percentage of rent will they pay and who gets it? Speaker 2: 00:48 Yeah, so the county and cities of San Diego in Chula Vista receive the aid and they each have to follow state law on how the money is spent and it works like this participating landlords would have to accept 80% of any rent that's owed between April, 2020 through the end of March, 2021. If they refuse those terms, eligible tenants would still receive payment for 25% of their rental debt over that same period. And they would still be protected from eviction until June 30th, which is when the state moratorium is scheduled to end. And, uh, local governments are also working with utility providers to take care of any past due payments during that same time period. Speaker 1: 01:31 And how does that work between the tenant and landlord? Do both the tenant and landlord have to apply to get any assistance? Well, either the tenant Speaker 2: 01:39 Or the landlord can apply to get the assistance. Um, but records from the city of San Diego's program show that the vast majority of applicants so far have been tenants. And I'm hearing that could be for a number of reasons, either from the land, from the property owner, not knowing they're allowed to apply for the relief to them, just waiting for the opportunity to evict their tenant. And in some cases, rental property owners have gone a year or more without receiving any rent payments, you know, and, and some of those relationships could be frayed and I'm hearing some owners aren't even waiting for the moratorium to end. Speaker 1: 02:17 W what kinds of problems are people facing in trying to apply for these rent relief funds? Well, Speaker 2: 02:25 Those who go through the application process, uh, which I'm hearing can take quite a while. They're going several weeks without any word on the status of their applications. And then suddenly they're expected to work with the other party, either the tenant or the landlord, and provide documents within a few days notice. So people who aren't internet savvy or those who aren't checking their email every day, like maybe someone like myself is, uh, they could easily miss these deadlines. And I'm hearing a lot of people are just getting frustrated with the process and our end are giving up. Speaker 1: 03:00 And if they actually do go through with the process and are approved, how soon do they actually get the rent relief funds I'm hearing? Speaker 2: 03:09 It's, uh, it's about a two month turnaround process from the time that you apply until the time that you received notification that you are eligible and you're going to receive payment. Speaker 1: 03:20 I'm wondering what the equivalency is between eviction moratoriums and rent relief. In other words, if people are in their homes and they can't get thrown out, does it reduce the urgency of their need for rental assistance? I'm actually Speaker 2: 03:38 Hearing that people are getting thrown out. Um, so as I described earlier, you know, some landlords aren't willing to wait for this process to play out. Uh, I talked with folks over at the legal aid society of San Diego, and they're working with tenants who are, have applied for the program and are waiting for relief and the landlord saying, well, Hey, how long is this going to take? That's it's a two month turnaround. And in many of these cases, landlords have already, they've already waited, waited weeks if not months. So from their perspective, they're not willing to wait any longer. Um, so records from the county courts, they're, they're showing as many as 10 evictions are being filed a day. Speaker 1: 04:27 If a renter, uh, let's say, has found some way to borrow money from a friend or a relative or somewhere to pay their rent during the pandemic, is there any way that they can be compensated by these rent relief programs or is it all about money still owed? Speaker 2: 04:43 Yeah, that that's been one of the biggest concerns facing tenants right now. It's, it's all about money still owed and, you know, and the debt that many have had to take on over the course of the pandemic to stay afloat, you know, that's, that's not going to be considered under these programs. You know, many people, they were paying rent on credit, you know, unsure what kind of relief would come down the pike. So that's something myself and many others are going to be watching out for in the months to come. Speaker 1: 05:11 And what kind of reforms my governor Newsome be considering to make the program work better? Speaker 2: 05:16 Yeah. Governor Gavin Newsome, he's proposed giving cities and counties more money to pay 100% of back rent owed over that timeframe I had discussed earlier, um, and as well as rent for some future payments. And I'm hearing that these changes officials think that these changes will also encourage more applications. And that's actually been one of the concerns here locally is, is there's been a, uh, uh, very low participation rate relative to the needs that we've seen across the region. Now, Speaker 1: 05:52 If these rent really funds remain unspent, what happens to that money? Can and counties use it for any other purpose? Speaker 2: 06:00 No, so this money can only be spent for rent and utility assistance payments. And right now state officials are monitoring local governments. They're watching for how many applications are coming in and how many eligible, how many households are being determined to be eligible. And they're kind of projecting this rate across over the next few months to determine whether or not the state will be able to meet federal deadlines to have this money spent. Um, so right now, uh, the San Diego region, it's looking like they're going to meet these deadlines, but that's under the, the idea that, um, these, these proposals that the governors put forward, that they will pass and that they will encourage more applications. So a lot's riding on, it seems like a lot's riding on, on these, these proposals from the governor Speaker 1: 06:57 I've been speaking with. I knew source reporter Cody, Delaney, Cody. Thank you. Thank you.

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More than two months ago, the San Diego region was awarded $211 million in state and federal funds to help landlords and low-income tenants impacted by the pandemic. But only 2% of that money has been sent to eligible households.
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