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Rental Relief Aims To Prevent Tsunami Of Evictions, But Will It Be Enough?

 June 24, 2021 at 10:51 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego county's eviction moratorium ends most likely this fall, will we see massive waves of people forced out of their homes. A rental relief program has meant to prevent that, but KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire Tresor found it's not always working. Speaker 2: 00:19 Oh yeah. Speaker 3: 00:20 Ramon Tescano is a day labor and father of five kids soon to be six together with his wife. And mother-in-law the family lives in a two bedroom apartment in Vista Speaker 2: 00:34 Was empty. This began well with the pandemic in March. When we tried to ask for loans and used our savings to pay the rent, then it became harder for us. Speaker 3: 00:43 When the pandemic hit work dried up, they soon fell behind Speaker 2: 00:50 [inaudible] we could eat, or we could pay rent. I mean, that's a really hard decision though. Speaker 3: 00:56 Family applied to the county's rent relief program this past March and waited. Finally, the money came last month. Rent relief was meant to quell a tsunami of evictions, but across San Diego county, the money is only just beginning to trickle out. The county has doled out only a quarter of the money it's received as of last week. And the KPBS analysis of the funds reveals that wealthier zip codes, disproportionately benefit residents of San Diego's downtown high rent district have gotten the most so far little Italy in the Gaslamp received almost $1.4 million while residents of some of the counties, three lowest income neighborhoods, each received a fraction of that in Logan Heights, San Ysidro and national city, and the zip codes where residents have had the best chance at receiving rent relief are some of the wealthiest in the county, Rancho Santa Fe, Poway, little Italy in the Gaslamp. Speaker 4: 01:57 The list is so long that it's impossible for me to cover it with Speaker 3: 02:00 You. But part of the problem is getting the word out to renters for how to get help says, as is Anna Valladolid at the San Diego housing commission. We did Speaker 4: 02:09 Paid advertisements in both English and Spanish on the radio advertisements, on the bus routes from Sani. Seadrill all the way to downtowns. There Speaker 3: 02:19 Are numerous issues with how the money is going out. A complicated system that is difficult for tenants to navigate the fact that money can't be given to people. Who've taken loans to pay their rent and the requirement that landlords cover 20% of the rent money. Speaker 4: 02:35 The eviction moratorium does not absolve the tenant's financial responsibility to pay all of the rent. We have been advocating for significant changes if those changes happen. And that's a big, if, if those changes happen, we would be able to exhaust all of the funds that we have. Speaker 3: 02:54 She says they've seen many tenants who, despite the eviction moratorium prioritized paying rent over other bills, Speaker 4: 03:02 They may have taken out loans may have charged on their credit cards. Unfortunately, we are not able to pay or provide assistance for people who have taken out loans. Speaker 3: 03:15 Ghana, the Vista resident, he did get some money, but nothing to cover. April may and June the months he waited after he applied California is considering a plan to forgive all back rent for people like to [inaudible]. He owes almost $5,000 and is worried. Speaker 2: 03:36 [inaudible] maybe we're one more homeless to stick because if I don't have enough money for my rent, what's going to happen. I'm going to take my family onto the street or in the car to live. Speaker 3: 03:47 Tescano says, this is all because of something his family didn't ask for the pandemic before the pandemic hit, he says he always found a way to pay the rent one way or the other. Joining Speaker 1: 04:00 Me is KPBS investigative reporter Claire Tresor Claire. Speaker 3: 04:04 Welcome. Thank you. Now, in several Speaker 1: 04:06 Interviews that we have done on this show, we've been following the slow disbursement of rent relief funds and San Diego county. Isn't one of the reasons that there aren't as many people applying for those funds as we're expected. Speaker 3: 04:18 Yeah, I think part of the problem is that it's been very slow to go out and, you know, initially the applications were quite complicated. Um, people said it was harder than doing your taxes. The state has now simplified the applications, um, to make it more straightforward and make it so that you can do it on a mobile phone. People didn't really know about it as much at first. Uh, and so they're, they're working to get the word out. And then, um, these agencies, government agencies are having to process all the applications and sometimes even go back to people and get more information, more forms of identification, things like that. So it's all, you know, going slower I think, than was expected. Speaker 1: 05:02 No, it seems that one big loophole in this program is that if people went into debt to pay their rent during the pandemic, they have no recourse to these rent relief funds. Is that one of the state guidelines, the housing commission says makes this program so difficult. Speaker 3: 05:18 Yes, definitely. That's that's a big issue is that people prioritize paying their rent as their first bill. You always think, oh, I've got to pay my rent. And so even though there was this moratorium and people weren't necessarily going to be evicted, they were still doing whatever they could to pay their rent. And that means that if they took out a loan or use credit cards, things like that to pay their rent, they aren't now eligible for, for rental relief through this, through this program. But I should say the housing commission is asking the state to change that so that people who did take out loans to pay their rent can get that rental. Um, they've written a letter to the governor. And so that's potentially one of the changes that they're looking for to make it easier, to get money out to people. Now you outlined Speaker 1: 06:07 The difference in rental relief payments across the county with a higher amount, going to higher income neighborhoods. Isn't one reason for that, that rents are higher in those neighborhoods. And so the payout would Speaker 3: 06:19 Be higher. Well, that's a good point. But when you look at the numbers of, um, households, who've received rental assistance, it's also higher in those neighborhoods, which of course then follows why the money is higher because they're giving out more rent to people in those neighborhoods. Um, but I think another issue is that, you know, depending on what neighborhood people lived in or what part of the county, like you look at ELCA Hoehn, um, there's a high number of people who got rental assistance in those neighborhoods. Maybe just because there's more outreach or there are more nonprofits set up to help people. You know, people have been going around with tablets and, and trying to sign people up. Um, so it's, it's not just about, uh, how many people live in that neighborhood necessarily or what the rents are, but how the outreach is going to, to let people know and help them fill out these forms. And landlords Speaker 1: 07:16 In particular have been hesitant to apply for rent relief payments. Is there some concern that many might be waiting to evict their tenants? Speaker 3: 07:25 Yeah. So the way that it goes is that a tenant fills in the application, but then the landlord has to, um, agree. Yes, I will cover 20% of this person's rent. And then the landlord gets 80% of the rent that hasn't been paid. And if the landlord doesn't agree, then the tenant only gets 25% of their rent, rental assistance paid to them. And that's, again, something that, um, advocates are asking the state to change, but yeah, as we'll go into in the story tomorrow, um, some landlords just want people out because then they can raise the rents when, when people leave for, for new renters, more than they're allowed to under rent control laws. Um, so, you know, we have a landlord talking about the chinos, other landlords who are even just giving people money to move out, not only, you know, not helping them get rental assistance, but actually paying them to move because they can then raise the rent enough to make more money off of new tenants. Moving in also Speaker 1: 08:30 In part two tomorrow, this report you and fellow reporter, Christina Kim, you will examine how the eviction moratorium is working and apparently evictions are still taking place. Why is that happen? Speaker 3: 08:44 That's right. I mean, there are, there have been reasons why people could, um, evict people during the pandemic, despite the moratorium. Um, and some advocates say landlords have abused those reasons. Like, for example, if you say, oh, I'm going to move into the place myself, or have a family member move in, or I'm going to make improvements on the property, you can still have people move out. And I think another big thing is that people just don't necessarily know, um, that there are protections for tenants, especially in San Diego county. That's pretty recent too. Um, you know, rent control, uh, tenant protections, things like that. So I talked with an organizer who said, um, when someone in LA is evicted, their first thought is who do I talk to for help? Uh, who do I reach out to? And in San Diego it's oh, shoot, where am I going to move to? You know, so people don't know that they can fight it. And so they may just leave. Even if the eviction wasn't actually, uh, allowed under state law. Speaker 1: 09:46 And as we've been saying, part two of this report will air tomorrow on mid day edition. I've been speaking with KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire triglyceride, Claire. Thank you very much. Thank you.

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While early pandemic predictions of a tsunami of evictions seem unlikely, advocates are worried that there could still be a steady stream.
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