Making It in the Bay

Billions of CA Rental Relief Dollars Left to Distribute to Tenants at Risk of Eviction

The state is urging all low-income tenants to head to where they can apply for the help

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President Joe Biden just extended the federal eviction moratorium until October, and the state’s moratorium expires at roughly the same time. So tens of thousands of tenants in the Bay Area who are behind on their rent, only have about eight weeks to figure things out. 

The state did set aside more than five billion federal dollars to actually pay their overdue rent, but only a fraction of that money has been spent. 

“The pandemic left me pretty much broke, unemployed,” said Ken Kellberg of Hayward.  

And now Kellberg is behind on his rent. After losing his job as a food server, he owes his Hayward landlord six months of overdue rent. 

He is not alone. According to an analysis by the non-profit, Surgo Ventures, 15% of households in Alameda County -- more than 40,000 people -- are on the hook for unpaid rent. 

“There’s a lot of us who have put our hands out for some help and we just haven’t heard anything back yet,” said Kellberg.

Kellberg is referring to California’s $5.2 billion dollar rent relief program -- the largest in the country. The state is urging all low-income tenants to head to where they can apply for the help. The state promises to pay eligible tenants all of their unpaid rent and even throw in additional money to pay for future rent. 

So what’s the hold-up? 

“Inevitably there are going to be bumps in the road and communication has been one of those bumps,” said Alex Werth, policy manager at East Bay Housing Organization.

Someone dealing with those bumps - Kellberg’s landlord, who says 8% of his tenants right now are waiting on rent relief. 

“Unfortunately, nobody is hearing anything so we don’t know what the timing is,” said Ralph Watkins of Watkins Real Estate.

If you think Watkins is counting down the days until the eviction moratorium is up so he can kick Kellberg out in the fall, you’re wrong. 

“I’m not waiting for that. We’re waiting to see how we can get, work through the process and get the tenant assistance program operational in a much better way,” he said.

According to the state’s dashboard, the program has shelled out $242 million dollars to renters and landlords, with $1 billion now in the pipeline.  

But that’s out of $5 billion, so there’s still lots of money left to help Californians pay their back rent.  

But the clock is ticking, with the biggest eviction moratoriums expiring now in less than two months. 

“I sort of think of it as potentially our last great opportunity to stabilize families and communities before we see a potential eviction cliff,” said Alex Werth, policy manager at East Bay Housing Organizations. 

A spokesperson for the state’s Business, Consumer Services  and Housing agency says they’re doubling up case management staff to handle the influx of applications. 

What’s more – the state has already streamlined the application process, by requiring less paperwork from tenants. More than 100 community partners across the state are helping spread the word to tenants that rent relief is just a couple of clicks away and to apply before it’s too late. 

“We’re all kind of scared right now,” said Kellberg. “We don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

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