California landlords, tenants struggle with rent relief program

Bay Area residents on both sides lament the difficulties of getting help

San Francisco /
Mar.March 14, 2022 08:49 AM
(iStock)

Thousands of Bay Area residents are waiting for a response to months-old applications for $5.2 billion in statewide rent relief, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In Oakland, Pat McHenry Sullivan took out a life insurance loan to repay off rent debt for her and her husband, who suffers from dementia. In Berkeley, Susan Marchionna may have to sell her home after a long dispute with a tenant whom she says hasn’t paid rent since the fall of 2021.

“I’ve been sitting here since early December with everything in limbo,” 79-year-old McHenry Sullivan said. “It’s heartbreaking, and it’s exhausting.”

As local, state and federal eviction bans expired in California last fall, the statewide rent relief program was designed to help those still waiting for protection against evictions by accepting applications through March 2022.

As that deadline approaches and politicians remain unresponsive to calls for another extension, renters and small landlords are concerned they will slip through the cracks. Stronger local eviction bans in Alameda County, where McHenry Sullivan and Marchionna live, have made the situation even more complicated.

Both landlords and tenants say property owners are becoming increasingly frustrated with California’s approach to rent relief and evictions and could soon raise income requirements or take rentals off the market altogether.

McHenry Sullivan hasn’t been able to pay rent on time since September 2021 and she had to dip into a life insurance policy to pay for October. She tried to apply for help via Oakland’s rent relief website, but it continuously malfunctioned when she tried. City officials directed McHenry Sullivan to apply for state assistance and after months of waiting and no response, she was told to reapply to the city program.

“Nobody ever responded,” McHenry Sullivan said. “Nobody.”

The California Department of Housing and Community Development says more than $2.2 billion of rent relief has been issued statewide to about 40 percent of the 468,314 households that applied. Yet an independent analysis of the state data by tenant advocates at National Equity Atlas showed only 16 percent have received the promised assistance.

McHenry Sullivan said she and her husband have decided that they can’t afford to stay in the Bay Area. They’re planning a cross-country move to be with family in Virginia once they repay $7,000 of rent they owe. “We’re going to pay it off, one way or another,” she said.

Marchionna said individual property owners like herself are being left to deal with the disputes on their own.

“The city of Berkeley is trying to get individual homeowners to help solve the housing crisis, then demonizing all landlords,” she said.

[SFC] — Victoria Pruitt 





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