San Francisco, CA

Thousands will be benefited from San Francisco's new $32 million budget for rent relief

Josue Torres
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San Francisco will spend $32 million on rent assistance, hoping to cover a huge rent debt problem left by COVID and save renters from being evicted or facing homelessness.

After more than 30 hours of discussion on the $13 billion spending proposal, Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors reached an agreement Tuesday evening to include the amount in the next budget. 

Details are still being worked out, but renters who are about to be evicted will be given priority.

According to a municipal study published last week, San Franciscans have piled up between $147 million and $355 million in unpaid rent over the previous 15 months due to pandemic unemployment.

The additional local funds are in addition to the state’s rent assistance program and a city-run effort that has received $90 million in federal funds. 

Since the program’s inception at the end of May, 1,800 families that owed a total of $16 million have applied as of last Wednesday. 

Half of those who applied were informed that they had been accepted for cash, but none had received them as of last week. 

Only 5,000 to 6,000 of the most vulnerable families are expected to be served by the program, with only one in every three households expected to need assistance.

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Supervisor Dean Preston, who spearheaded the rent relief talks in this year’s budget, believes that the money will benefit roughly 3,500 families.

Preston said in a statement that San Francisco is banding together to put an end to pandemic-fueled displacement, explaining that they recognize that their job is far from done and that the new plan means that thousands of families will no longer have to live in dread of eviction.

Last Monday, supervisors decided to extend the city’s eviction moratorium until the end of December, which prevents residents from being evicted due to COVID-19-related reasons provided they can pay a quarter of their rent. 

Three days later, the state extended a similar ban, but only until the end of September, potentially rendering the city’s safeguards ineffective.

While the state’s rent relief plan mainly benefits landlords, the city’s would benefit renters. 

Local landlords have said that the eviction moratorium would be detrimental to their businesses. 

Some landlords expressed that they believe no other small company gets treated the way they are.

The local rent relief resolves a dispute over income from Proposition I, a tax on high-priced real estate property transactions that was approved by voters last year. 

This year, Prop. I is projected to bring in $128 million. Its proponents campaigned on the basis that half of the money would be spent on rent reduction and the other half on cheap social housing, a mixed-income public housing model.

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Because the money was technically a general tax, which means it goes into the general fund and may be utilized for any municipal services, the Mayor’s first proposed budget did not designate the exact amount from Prop. I to those objectives.

During an April Board meeting, Mayor Breed said that housing is a top priority and that financing for housing and eviction protection is imperative. However, she also mentioned accessible relief.

“I don’t agree we should set it aside for brand new programming that hasn’t been fully defined when we have an economic and housing crisis to solve now,” she said.

Preston ultimately received a quarter of the income for rent relief and said Tuesday that he still intends to seek dedicating half of the $128 million to affordable social housing at a later date.

The city’s rent assistance resources will be handled via a new program designed by supervisors and managed by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

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