State rent relief program serves South Bay residents
A longtime apartment complex in South San Jose is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    When California started its COVID-19 rent relief program in April with a plan to disburse $33 million in federal funds to San Jose residents, the city and Santa Clara County decided to run their own joint program for extremely low income households.

    But this hybrid approach creates problems, state officials say.

    “We have two programs in the same area… which just creates a really difficult logistical scenario for both of us,” said Jessica Hayes, branch chief of disaster recovery for California’s Department of Housing and Community Development. “It created this very complicated process of trying to figure out how to send people to the right place, and if they didn’t get them to the right place, trying to figure out how not to compromise their information.”

    Cities are racing to issue rent relief ahead of the end of the state’s eviction moratorium. California has suspended evictions until Sept. 30.

    As of Tuesday, the state has disbursed a total of $6,683,937 to 402 households in San Jose and $4,420,962 to 258 households in Santa Clara County.

    The rent relief funds come from the federal stimulus package passed in December, which allocated $25 billion in rent relief to states and localities, according to David Low, director of policy and communications for Destination: Home. San Jose and Santa Clara County County received $51 million, while California received $2.6 billion.

    San Jose and Santa Clara County partnered to disburse rent relief to the lowest-income households—those earning 30% or less of the area’s median income. For example, a household of four would need to earn $47,350 or less to qualify for the local rent relief program.

    Chart of what 30%, 50% and 80% AMI are, depending on the number of members in a household. Chart courtesy of Project Sentinel.

    Meanwhile, the state disburses rent relief to households earning 30% to 80% of the area’s median income. For a family of four, that threshold is $47,351 to $112,150.

    Hayes said that the average request for rent relief per household in San Jose and Santa Clara County is $16,500, which could include both back rent and prospective rent for the next three months.

    The pace of rent relief is slow because of early hiccups in coordinating the state’s program with Santa Clara County’s, according to Russ Heimerich, spokesperson for California’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which oversees the state rent relief program.

    “We did not have a data-sharing agreement in either (San Jose or Santa Clara County),” Heimerich told San José Spotlight. “They were one of the last ones that signed the agreement.”

    Heimerich said the data-sharing agreement was essential to avoid duplication of benefits, which is disallowed for federal funds. He said the state recently hired 150 new case managers to check applications, which should enable them to process the backlog of requests. The state also streamlined its process to make it easier for applicants and processing agents to work through requests, Heimerich said.

    Ragan Henninger, deputy director of San Jose’s Department of Housing, said she is unaware of any delays to the state program caused by San Jose or Santa Clara County. She couldn’t comment on what the state claimed, but said the two rent relief programs are split cleanly enough to avoid confusion.

    Henninger said the city and county decided to run their own program in order to reach the region’s most vulnerable populations, including low-income residents, people of color and neighborhoods with the highest rates of COVID-19.

    “Frankly, it was the right thing to do in terms of equity,” Henninger said.

    The city and county designed their system to direct residents to the right source of rent relief, regardless of income level.

    “We’re trying to build a system where there’s no wrong door, so if someone applies to the state and they’re extremely low income, the state’s going to refer them to the local program, and vice-versa,” Henninger told San José Spotlight. “Most people don’t have any idea what 30% below (area median income) means… I would encourage people to apply through Destination: Home, and they’ll get referred to the right place.”

    Destination: Home’s rent relief program has been going strong since last year. The housing nonprofit, in partnership with Santa Clara County and other nonprofits, has disbursed more than $41 million in rent relief and cash assistance since March of last year, according to Chad Bojorquez, chief program officer.

    But the need for cash and rental assistance continues to grow, Bojorquez said. The average Destination: Home client’s household income is $22,128. Meanwhile, the average request for rent relief is $8,776.

    “Applications are coming in every hour of every day,” he said. “We’ve already received more than 2,600 applications in the last two months… the need is right here, right now.”

    Residents can apply to Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 rent relief program at

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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