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Understanding Emergency Rent Relief in Santa Clara County

California’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium ends June 30, but rent relief is on the horizon for Santa Clara County residents.

Local housing experts explained emergency rent relief programs and eviction protections serving Santa Clara County at a Wednesday panel hosted by San José Spotlight.

Rent assistance includes a state and local program, with the local program focusing on extremely low-income residents.

The panel featured Consuelo Hernandez, director of the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing; Michelle McGurk, assistant to the San Jose city manager; Emily Hislop, rent stabilization programs manager of Project Sentinel; and Chad Bojorquez, chief program officer at Destination: Home.

“We selected a hybrid approach,” Hernandez said. “This allows us to work very closely with the state in how they’re administering their program in our community.”

Undocumented individuals are eligible to apply for assistance, and doing so will not count as a public charge. No citizenship questions will be asked.

State Program: California’s COVID-19 Rent Relief 

Right now, the state program is the only way to apply for assistance. In mid-May, local officials will launch a county program — but they’re referring residents to the state program until then.

Tenants and landlords can apply for assistance on the state’s Housing is Key website.

Tenants experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 are eligible to apply if they demonstrate a risk of housing insecurity or homelessness, and have a household income less than 80% of the Average Median Income (AMI). For a household of four in Santa Clara County, 80% AMI is $112,150.

The program will pay landlords 80% of unpaid rent from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, as long as the landlord agrees to forgive the other 20%. If a landlord does not participate in the program, tenants can apply to receive 25% of unpaid rent from the same timeframe—which is the amount needed to avoid eviction under Senate Bill 91, California’s COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act.

Officials encouraged landlords and renters to work together to get the most assistance possible.

From April 1 to mid-May, the program will focus on tenants who earned less than 50% AMI in 2020, although anyone under 80% AMI is eligible. Starting mid-May, the program will focus on individuals between 30% to 80% AMI. Tenants under 30% AMI are referred to the local program.

Hislop advised landlords to communicate with tenants when they apply for assistance. That way, tenants know to watch out for an email and complete the application. On the application, both the landlord and tenant need to confirm that the rent information is correct.

Local Program: City/County Emergency Assistance

The local rent relief program is set to launch May 10, and will prioritize residents under 30% AMI. The program will also provide outreach to people living in rent-controlled units and mobile homes.

“What we found is that the folks at the lowest income spectrum are in the most need,” McGurk said. “Our focus will be on households that are at risk of displacement.”

The Santa Clara County Homeless Prevention System, along with 47 nonprofit partners, will conduct outreach and case management to residents, especially those living in ZIP codes with the highest rates of COVID-19 and job loss.

“We’re going to do whatever we can to make sure that they don’t become homeless,” Bojorquez said. “This includes forward-looking rent and supportive services, making sure that they have access to whatever resources are needed to stay housed.”

Bojorquez recommended those who need immediate help with rent call the Homeless Prevention System at (408) 926-8885.

Small Landlord Relief

For landlords struggling to make mortgage payments due to the pandemic who own four or less properties—each with no more than four rental units— relief options include temporarily suspending or reducing mortgage, changing mortgage terms permanently or creating a payment plan. Hislop advises small landlords contact a housing counselor to discuss options by calling (408) 470-3730 or going to housing.org/housing-counseling.

Other Resources

For residents without access to technology, McGurk said San Jose is working on setting up pop-up sites where people can get help filling out applications. She also suggested local nonprofits and public libraries such as Tully Library and Dr. Roberto Cruz Library in East San Jose as other places to apply for rent assistance.

For questions and support regarding rent relief, call the California COVID-19 Rent Relief Call Center at (833) 430-2122, email support@carentrelief.com, call the local partner network appointment hotline at (833) 687-0967 or visit Housing.ca.gov.