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Millions In Rent Relief Still Available

Cover image for podcast episode

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: A "for rent" sign is pictured in San Diego, Sept. 17, 2020.

There are still millions in rent relief available for county residents and officials are trying to figure out why some renters are not taking advantage of the offer. Plus, the political attitudes toward marijuana have been shifting for years thanks in part through spending on local elections by the cannabis industry. And, this weekend in the arts, new dance film, last chance to see works from 30 artists living in the border region and works by emerging artists.

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego has millions left unspent and it's rent relief program.

Speaker 2: 00:05 And he is working with different organizations to get the word out to San Diego County residents that you should apply.

Speaker 1: 00:12 I'm wearing Kavanaugh. This is KPBS mid-day edition,

Speaker 3: 00:15 Then

Speaker 1: 00:24 Cannabis regulation in San Diego.

Speaker 3: 00:28 We need to keep focusing on removing the stigma that cannabis users aren't necessarily bad people. And they're just any they're just like anybody else.

Speaker 1: 00:37 Our weekend preview includes a conversation with artists, Claudia Canno that's ahead on midnight.

Speaker 3: 00:44 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 01:00 A program to provide rent relief for San Diego has not been as popular as city leaders expected fewer than 10,000 applications have been received leaving about $50 million left unspent mayor. Todd Gloria has even released a TV, commercial urging, struggling renters to take advantage of the program. Officials are now trying to figure out if the problem could be too few renters, know about the rent relief available, or maybe too few renters need it. Joining me is Phillip Molnar, a reporter for the San Diego union Tribune and Phillip, welcome to the program. Thank you so much for having me, how much money in total did the city get for rent relief and where did it come from?

Speaker 2: 01:42 So they have $92.2 million in rent relief. And it's all basically from federal money for the different stimuluses, but how it was distributed was a little different. Some of the money came directly to the city. Some went through Sacramento and then was redistributed, but it all came out to this very large pot of money. And how do you qualify to get it? So you need to make a certain amount under the area, median income. You need to be able to prove that you have lost income due to COVID-19 that can be directly or indirectly sometimes it's you lost a job or you had medical bills related. So some sort of rough documentation that you've lost money due to COVID.

Speaker 1: 02:23 And is this money just to pay back rent?

Speaker 2: 02:26 Actually, it's very generous. It isn't just back rent. It can pay some of three months rent in advance. It can even pay utilities such as internet bill, even short-term hotel stays, but more basic stuff, probably like water and energy.

Speaker 1: 02:43 And who gets the payment? Is it the renters or the landlords?

Speaker 2: 02:47 So the program is set up that it's supposed to go to your landlord. However, there is a different thing where if the renter's landlord is not participating, the city has set aside money to pay the renter directly. So it is possible for even either the renter or the landlord to initiate the process, to ask for the money. And even if, and this is a criticism I've heard, it puts a lot of the power in the landlord's hands, but the money the city does have money that can go directly to a renter.

Speaker 1: 03:19 And what are the challenges that may be keeping renters from applying for the money?

Speaker 2: 03:23 So a lot of people don't have access to computers. It's very difficult on a smartphone to apply. It's an online, only application. So you need to be sitting at a computer, either at a public library or some community groups have helped set up computers to get them there, to fill out the application. So that can be a bit of a barrier right there. Also, the city is working with 10 different organizations that cover 20 different languages. I couldn't even name 20 languages by the way, but covering 20 different languages to get the word out to San Diego County residents that this money is available and you should apply.

Speaker 1: 04:01 Now. Some people have speculated that it's possible. That's so much money for rent relief just isn't needed.

Speaker 2: 04:08 That's right. You know, throughout this pandemic, I have been calling different landlord groups. I've been calling property management companies and I kept hearing the same thing over and over. That was not quite jiving with what I had been hearing at a national level. And that was that they really didn't have a lot of people that were not paying rent. So it was sort of interesting in that regard because it's, it's surprising because at a national level, we're hearing about this eviction cliff. If you're hearing from a lot of politicians, they're saying we need to do this for rent. And obviously there's a lot of anecdotal sob stories out there. You know, I can always find as a reporter, I can do my best to find as many sob stories as possible. If people that haven't paid their rents, you know, I've been at some horrible accident, but are those anecdotal stories, really the majority of renters and what I have found at least in San Diego County, I haven't talked to every single renter out there, but a lot of times when I talked to those very large property management firms that hold 700 to 900 apartments is they really don't have high delinquency rates, which is kind of goes against some narratives we've been here.

Speaker 1: 05:19 Is it possible that this rent relief is just coming too late? Uh, that renters have made other arrangements and trying to find some money if they've lost their job. And they're worried about making the rent.

Speaker 2: 05:31 Yeah. That's also a huge factor. I talked to the Chicano Federation this week and they deal with a lot of immigrants and refugees here. And some of those people, you know, don't qualify for these enhanced unemployment benefits and even the stimulus checks that came and a lot of other things that people benefit from. But what they found was that a lot of those renters found other ways to get their rent paid. They were extremely resilient. They usually got loans from friends or family. They just wanted to make sure they had a roof over their head because they didn't know if this money was coming. So you can kind of look at it like, well, we had a real gap in time between the first San Diego rent relief program, which was a 15.1 million to now in March, uh, with this 92.2 million. And that left, you know, roughly, let's say about six months where people really didn't know if any more money was going to be coming. So during that time, people may do

Speaker 1: 06:29 Deadline for when the rent relief money now has to be spent.

Speaker 2: 06:33 Yeah. It's sort of interesting, you know, and this is a changing thing where state requirements and even federal requirements have been loosened in the, you know, day to day. So this could always change. But when the San Diego housing authority got the money state requirements said that they had to spend 44.9 million by August 1st and then the federal requirements that they had to spend another 42.3 million by December 31st. Although there were some provisions in place to extend the timeline, if needed,

Speaker 1: 07:04 Do city officials expect the demand to pick up?

Speaker 2: 07:07 I think city officials mainly think right now, the problem is that they need to reach more renters, almost all of them. I've talked to seem to think that they just haven't done a good enough job of getting the word out and are less worried about that. Maybe there's too much money in the fund. So I haven't heard really too much worry about not getting the money spent. And another thing to consider is the money in the fund can be used for all these utilities, all these different things, future rent, and it there's a strong possibility if enough people find out about and apply again and again, as they have hardship, it could get all spent.

Speaker 1: 07:44 I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, reporter Phillip Molnar, Philip. Thanks for joining us. Thank you so much for more information on the city's rental assistance program or to apply, you can visit COVID assistance dot S D H c.org.

Speaker 4: 08:04 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 08:06 The day of celebration for cannabis has always been April 20th, four 20, but people in San Diego's pot industry have been shearing all year. Thanks to a trend towards loosening cannabis regulations, countywide KPBS, as Katie Stegal says the industry has been working for those changes for a long time in part by spending money in local elections,

Speaker 4: 08:30 It was a joyful election night for San Diego Democrats. Last November, they celebrated winning the presidency in several local elections. One of those big wins was the majority on the San Diego County board of supervisors. And the new majority acted quickly to pass a new set of policies, allowing more cannabis businesses and unincorporated San Diego County County of San Diego is one of the few governing entities that had this outright ban, uh, on, on, on

Speaker 5: 08:56 Cannabis products, both not just recreational adult use, but also, uh, medicinal

Speaker 4: 09:00 County supervisor. Nathan Fletcher led the push for the change. He's long supported cannabis and the industries also supported him. One cannabis political action committee donated $22,000 to his 2018 campaign. But Fletcher says he didn't push these policy proposals because of his donors.

Speaker 5: 09:18 But the reason we're doing this is because it's the right thing to do. It's also the reason pretty much every other jurisdiction in San Diego County has already done the exact same thing.

Speaker 4: 09:26 Other candidates, mostly Democrats were backed by cannabis advocates too. They received more than $300,000 during the last two elections, but cannabis groups have a long way to go until they rank amongst the bigger political spenders. Consider that in the last two elections, the San Diego chamber of commerce has political action committee spent more than $1.5 million. A political experts say cannabis has influence is growing.

Speaker 5: 09:50 There are other major players and cannabis could become one of those, uh, players in, in San Diego pollen

Speaker 4: 09:57 UCS professor Thad Couser says the fight for adult use cannabis is no longer at a state level. It's being waged city by city. And that means local political contributions are more important.

Speaker 5: 10:07 The question is about where can you put a dispensary? Where can you do agricultural production? And that's a land use policy.

Speaker 4: 10:16 Cannabis advocates are happy with the supervisor's vote, but they aren't stopping there. Dalen young vice chair of San Diego's cannabis chamber of commerce says they need more licenses for dispensaries and cannabis lounges. So they're looking next at increasing licenses and individual cities, which he says will also help social equity campaigns within the industry.

Speaker 5: 10:34 How many of those facilities do not have any minority representation amongst their ownership? This is a huge problem. And that is because how few licenses there are available. If you allow for more licenses to be available, then you allow for more diversity in the marketplace because you deflate the value of those licenses.

Speaker 4: 10:50 They also want to decrease the cost of a license. For example, in Chula Vista, it can cost more than a hundred thousand dollars that drives prospective business owners,

Speaker 5: 10:59 Time and time again, you know, I tell these people, um, you all, where there are no opportunities right now in the San Diego area, how do you feel about going out to the desert hot Springs or up to California state

Speaker 4: 11:12 Cannabis business attorney ed Wicker says there are only five cannabis businesses on unincorporated County land, right?

Speaker 5: 11:18 It's disheartening. Why can't they have a lawful business? That is something that they can manage close, close at home. Uh, the San Diego area and local governments are missing out on the revenue here. And, uh, it's, it's been a Durham of business opportunities.

Speaker 4: 11:40 LinkedIn fish is the CEO of one of the five licensed cannabis businesses and unincorporated San Diego who has contributed to candidates supporting the looser regulations. He says, it's time to move beyond the reefer madness stereotype. We need to keep

Speaker 6: 11:54 Focusing on removing the stigma that cannabis users aren't necessarily bad people and just end it there. Just like anybody

Speaker 1: 12:01 Else for KPBS news. I'm Katie Stegall, KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Kavanaugh. This weekend in the arts. There's a new dance film that highlights the stories of Southeast San Diego. It's our last chance to see an exhibition of works from 30 artists. Living in the border region, also work from some of the finest emerging contemporary artists studying art today. Journey me with all the details as KPBS arts editor and producer, Julia Dixon, Evans and artists, cloudy, Aquino, who is also the education director at Lux art Institute. Welcome to you both.

Speaker 6: 12:47 Thanks for having us, Maureen, thank you for having me

Speaker 1: 12:50 Domestic geographies exhibition at the front gallery in San Ysidro closes in just over a week and Saturday evening, the gallery is holding an open house. Julia, what do we need to do?

Speaker 6: 13:01 No. Well, if you haven't had a chance to see this really incredible group show, now's your chance. Social distancing and mass girls will still be enforced that they're opening it up to drop in visits on Saturday and the work and the show is incredible with the way 30 different artists experienced the domestic realm and Claudia, your work is featured in the show. Can you tell us a little bit about the overall theme of this exhibition and how your work fits in with it? Yeah. Uh, the submission was curated by, uh, Ingrid Hernandez, uh, artist and curator. And she invited me to be part of the exhibition, which is a great opportunity for me to show a new body of work that I've been working on the last, uh, year during the pandemic. And it deals with, you know, domestic issues, uh, by using appropriated images and, uh, talking about the role of Latin its communities in the country, especially, uh, domestic workers,

Speaker 1: 14:04 The domestic geographies exhibition open house takes place Saturday from five to eight at the front.

Speaker 6: 14:11 Claudia, you have one other show you'd like to recommend we check out this weekend. Can you tell us all about that? Yeah. Well, as soon as last Friday, uh, measurements of progress open to the public is the AI, uh, in McGuire park. And it is a group of, uh, grad students from UCLA in the masters of fine arts. Uh, and they are, you know, showing the final show that deals with, you know, step of human progress from a historical and contemporary point of view and this the clarity of vision. So it is a fun show. A very interesting, very engaging measurements of progress is on view by appointment at San Diego art Institute in Balboa park. Now through May 30th and Julia you're recommending a dance film commissioned by the LA Jolla Playhouse. Tell us a little bit about towards belonging. Yeah. So this is part of the playhouses digital without walls festival, and they called on choreographer and Annette Mariah Raimi, who she just last year launched them Mariah performing arts center in Chula Vista.

Speaker 6: 15:19 And she worked with Ebony Harvey filmmaker to put together this new dance film film that the arts park at Trius Creek. And it features movement set 10 narrated, personal stories, graffiti art spoken word and music. And it's focused on the stories of Southeast San Diego and the personal impacts of systemic racism. That Playhouse is hosting a watch party Saturday morning at 11, with a Q and a with the choreographer and the filmmaker and some of the Playhouse leadership. And here's a short scene from towards belonging where dancer Hannah Pritchett is she's dancing between chain link, fences along a short path. And she reads her story kind of like

Speaker 3: 16:04 On the other side, I stand as I am. Oftentimes I felt like a foreigner that truly never belongs and outsider peering in from the outside. Never quite enough as I am not enough a foreign thing, but too much of another childhood, I have been told I don't belong and to go back home, but how do you go back home when you don't know what home is, where home is, how do you tell a child that they do not belong for being born the way they are born retrained my perceptions of what I'm supposed to be versus what I actually am restrained by ideas of how I'm supposed to lock because of where I come from restrained by judgment of ingrained prejudice and preconceived notions, which I have no control over

Speaker 6: 16:58 Towards belonging from the LA Jolla Playhouse cardiac, you have a background in performance art, and I'm wondering what your thoughts are on filmed performance art and filmed dance as that it's researching during the pandemic. I think that in general, and right now art are making and creativity is all what we need to keep aware of mental health, you know, healthy, and it's so important to be either seen or participating or creating. And it has, you know, in many communities as I have seen it in my job, as in my practice has saved us. Right? So I think that it's so important in performing is a way to express the body the mind. So, um, I'm, you know, driven to, to suggest to be active and involved

Speaker 1: 17:56 Playhouse Dan's film towards belonging launches online Saturday with a world premier watch party@elevenamfordetailsonalloftheseandmoreartseventsortosignupfortheweeklykpbsartsnewslettergotokpbs.org slash arts. We've been speaking with cloudy, Aquino artists and education director at Lux art Institute and with KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans. Thank you

Speaker 6: 18:24 Both. Thank you. Have a wonderful weekend. Thank you so much.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.