Mayor Todd Gloria. Photo by Chris Stone

Mayor Todd Gloria highlighted Monday what he is touting as the success of the city’s COVID-19 Housing Stability Assistance Program and announced a proposal to establish a $5 million legal defense fund to support struggling tenants.

The housing assistance program has provided more than $103 million in rent and utility relief to 11,806 San Diego households since it was opened to applications on March 15, according to the mayor’s office. About $54 million more has been committed to renters whose applications have received preliminary approval, subject to review and confirmation of their documentation.

“I am incredibly proud of the job our city has done to get assistance to residents who’ve been unable to pay their rent and utilities during this difficult time,” Gloria said. “I am working with our federal and state partners to bring additional dollars to San Diego to support our program further, and I am asking the City Council to work with me to create a legal-aid program to help San Diegans who are under the threat of eviction.”

Gloria is working with federal officials on a program that could provide additional rental-assistance funding to local governments that have been successful in getting relief out to tenants and landlords, as well as advocating for additional state support.

On Oct. 5, Gloria will present a proposal to the City Council that would use $5 million in federal CARES Act dollars to create a program to provide eviction-prevention education and legal assistance, which would be administered by the San Diego Housing Commission.

City Council President pro Tem Stephen Whitburn and Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera joined Gloria for the announcements.

“We can all be proud that the city of San Diego has had one of the most efficient rent-relief programs in the nation,” said Whitburn. “I’m pleased the mayor is looking ahead at how we can provide information and assistance to renters in the event they face eviction.

“Evictions can often lead to homelessness, and we simply can’t afford to have more San Diegans living on the streets,” he said.

The program is administered by the San Diego Housing Commission, which has received more than 23,561 applications since the program began. More than 23,148 additional applications have been started but have not yet been submitted.

“Home is the bedrock of security, health and success,” said Elo- Rivera. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, the city of San Diego has preserved this bedrock by protecting residents from eviction, and by supporting them with rental and utility assistance.

“However, due to overwhelming need, we’ve reached the capacity with our limited resources,” he said. “Additional investments from our federal and state partners will be crucial in preventing a wave of homelessness, and to holding ourselves to our commitment to the ideal of housing for all.”

Applications for assistance from the program can also provide additional protections for renters who may face potential eviction after California’s temporary ban on evictions expires Thursday. Assembly Bill 832, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on June 28, includes additional protections for renters, effective Oct. 1.

From Oct. 1 through March 31, 2022, landlords who want to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent — when a tenant has experienced a COVID-19- related hardship — must show that the tenat applied for rental assistance and it was denied.

Gilberto Vera, senior attorney at the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, joined Gloria to speak about tenant protections.

“Starting October 1, the remaining tenant protections are tied to tenants applying for emergency rental assistance,” Vera said. “We recommend tenants not only submit rental assistance applications, but also regularly check on the status of their application and keep an open line of communication with their landlord.”

He recommended if tenants are served an eviction notice by their landlord that they call Legal Aid Society of San Diego at 877-534-2524 to receive free legal assistance regarding the validity of the notice before self- evicting.

For more information about the COVID-19 Housing Stability Assistance Program, visit www.sdhc.org/covid19hsap. Applications may be submitted at covidassistance.sdhc.org.

Immigration status does not affect whether a household qualifies for help from the program.

Applications may be submitted by a tenant, community-based organization or 211 San Diego on behalf of a tenant. In addition, landlords may initiate applications on behalf of their tenants, subject to the tenant’s review and approval to submit the application.

–City News Service

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