barbara bry city council
Councilwoman Barbara Bry, left, is shown at a San Diego City Council meeting on Nov. 19, 2019.(Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

The San Diego City Council has approved the creation of an emergency rental assistance fund tied to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, although it could take weeks to figure out the details.

The council unanimously approved the fund Tuesday night to provide rent assistance to thousands of San Diegans out-of-work or otherwise struggling to pay bills because of the health crisis.

Councilman Chris Ward proposed the creation of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, initially designed to reallocate $61.9 million of the city’s $248.5 million federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act funding to help San Diego’s renters.

Some of those funds, if the proposal is passed as is, would come from federal money previously allocated for police and public safety — a fact that earned the agenda item lengthy public support.

How the fund does eventually get funded, and to what degree, will depend largely on next week’s city budget hearings.

According to a report by Ward’s staff, more than 165,000 of San Diego’s 300,000 renters qualify as low or very-low income — measured as 50% and 30% of the city’s adjusted median income for a family of four, respectively — and the calls to United Way and the county’s 211 line asking for rental assistance have skyrocketed over the last two months.

The San Diego Association of Governments released a report last week estimating San Diego County unemployment is more than 30%, a record high for the region.

An existing eviction moratorium in San Diego runs through June 30, but Ward said the back rent due after it expires will prove too large a burden for many out of work.

The program as proposed would have redistributed $21.1 million in CARES Act funding each from police and fire and $19.7 million from San Diego’s “Shelter to Home” homeless transition program.

Ward said he knew it was a big ask, but a necessary one as lower- income San Diegans struggle to make ends meet and nonprofits find themselves overwhelmed.

The program would provide up to $4,000 for more than 15,000 families affected by COVID-19 in the city, Ward’s office estimates. Those families making less than 60% of the region’s median income would be eligible. For a family of four, that’s about $69,000 a year.

Half of the rental assistance fund money would be able to be applied to previously missed rent, the other half of which can be applied to coming months.

Ward’s plan called for the San Diego Housing Commission to oversee the funds, which would go directly to landlords and property managers.

The commission will begin developing the program to be considered through the city’s budget process on June 9.

–City News Service