Delays and frustrations still weigh on local rental relief programs


May 27, 2021

The County and City of San Diego have indicated they may not be able to spend the millions of dollars they have allocated on housing assistance.

Tenants and landlords who have applied for and participated in the program say the programs’ websites are confusing, making it difficult to enforce, and several rules mean that even when they receive funds, they often don’t respond to their needs. .

As of May 26, the San Diego Housing Commission, which manages the program for city residents, plans to spend $ 43.8 million to help eligible households receive rent and utility assistance on the basis of the more than 12,000 requests received so far, of which 10.6 million have been dispersed. This represents about 52% of the $ 83.7 million available. As of May 24, the county had received 13,600 requests for aid worth $ 61.4 million, including $ 7.4 million already dispersed. The county has $ 107 million allocated to the program.

On March 15, Lens Pierre-Lys submitted its application for housing assistance to the San Diego Housing Commission. Pierre-Lys has worked in the service sector and has been surviving on unemployment and his credit cards since March 2020.

At that time, he was a month behind on his rent of $ 1,750.

When he finally heard from the Housing Commission in May, he had paid most of the March rent, part of the April rent, and still owed all of May. Pierre-Lys said the Housing Commission told him she would pay her landlord $ 120 for what he still owed for March – 80% of the $ 150 owed – and additional funds to cover utilities she he still had to.

He said he was told there would likely be additional funds available, in which case he would likely be able to secure funds to pay back 25% of what he owed for April, May and June. But that money, if it arrives, might not be available until late summer or early fall. He says he can’t afford to wait that long.

“I would have done better not to pay anything, until I knew when this 2 month ordeal would be dealt with,” Pierre-Lys wrote in an email.

Housing Commission spokesperson Scott Marshall said policies limiting the amount it pays in some cases are dictated by state guidelines. SB 91, the law of the state that allocated funds to localities for the program, defines past due rent as anything due between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021. Anything after March 31, 2020 is considered future rent – and the program will only pay 25 percent of what’s owed “regardless of when a claim was submitted,” Marshall said.

“I just wish there was better communication,” Pierre-Lys said in an interview. “If I had known that, I would have waited or I would have done things differently.

Kat Blue, who also qualified for Housing Commission help, said she felt lucky that her landlord took the 80% of the funds she owed as is. Blue said she was pretty sure he wouldn’t accept just 25% of the rent she owes in May and June.

Last year, Blue received funding from the city’s first round of housing assistance. That, added to the Social Security income she receives due to a disability and has borrowed money from friends, has helped her pay small amounts for rent. Social Security covers less than half of his monthly living expenses.

Jessica Teaster, a resident of Escondido who applied for the county’s housing assistance program, said she was shocked to hear of the same policy as part of the county’s program. The Teaster family owes nearly $ 13,000 on the single-family home they rent and a few thousand more on their water bill.

Teaster asked for help on March 5 and was told the funds would arrive in mid-May.

Before hearing from the county, she received water cut notices that prompted her to borrow money to pay them back instead of waiting.

The county did not respond to requests for comment.

Teaster’s husband is a sound engineer in the touring concert industry. His last gig was on March 11, 2020 and he probably won’t be able to start working again until the fall. Most of their income was from work and they have two children.

“We lost everything because of this thing,” Teaster said. “It has been very stimulating and difficult, especially for our children. They can feel our tension and hear our convos – and our convos were, “How do we avoid becoming homeless? “”.

“ There is no other industry that is asked to do this ”

Many landlords do not appreciate being asked to forgo 20% of the rental payments owed to them in order to receive rent assistance from the city and county.

“The assumption is that if you own real estate, you’re rich and don’t need help,” said Lucinda Lilley, who works for a San Diego property management company that serves about 690 independent tenants. “And that’s just not the situation with independent owners in Southern California or even anywhere in the country.”

Paul Krueger and his wife rent a condo that his wife bought before getting married. They are still paying mortgages on the house and the house they live in, but their tenant has not paid rent for almost a year due to loss of income from COVID.

This means that Krueger’s family finances have been hit hard.

Krueger said that after the rent paid off the mortgage, homeowners association fees, property taxes and any maintenance and repairs on the property, they only earned about $ 100 per month in profit.

Now they have to cover these costs with their work income.

“We lost $ 12,000 than we would have otherwise had,” Krueger said. “We have two mortgages to pay, expenses and everything. We cannot absorb it. It’s easy to say these are big companies that own a lot of units and are heartless, but I think a significant number of units are mom-pop rental units. “

Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry expressed concern last month in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom that the city would not be able to donate all the funds, and asked the state for several programmatic changes, including providing landlords with 100% of the overdue rent. and future rent that tenants will not be able to pay.

“There is no other industry that is being asked to do this during the pandemic,” Lilley said. Many of her clients are making their mortgage payments “by the grace of God” or are themselves short of credit.

If tenants who owe rent move out, their landlords are no longer eligible to receive funds to cover what is owed, Lilley said.

“There is no way for the owner to get any of these funds back at this time,” Lilley said. Homeowners in this situation will just have to file claims in court – once the courts start dealing with these types of claims again, that is.

In his letter to Newsom, Gentry also requested that landlords be eligible for the rebate even if tenants move out.

Website issues

Landlords and tenants alike say online portals for requesting and submitting documents for the program are difficult to use – and that it is often difficult to get answers when asking for help.

Blue said once she applied and was told she would be eligible for funds, her owner struggled for weeks to access the portal. Blue and her owner both called several different people from the agency, including the worker assigned to her case, and no one had any answers.

“It was so frustrating,” Blue said. “I think it’s really great that the government is providing this help. I just wish it was an easier and faster process and it was easier to contact people and get your questions answered. “

Krueger said his support check was delayed because it was so difficult to figure out what was needed with the process, in part due to the design of the website.

Lilley agrees that it was difficult to navigate the website and get help, but felt the city and county needed to design their systems quickly once they found out they would be receiving help. state and federal government money for rent assistance.

“The city hired a group of people to answer the phones,” she said. “The problem is, the people who answered the phone had no answers.”

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