Surviving the pandemic: Can’t pay rent? Here’s what you should do
Silicon Valley renters and housing advocates demand more protections for tenants in this file photo. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

Living paycheck to paycheck works well enough until the paycheck disappears and employees are left scrambling to pay rent. That’s the reality for many Santa Clara County residents who are out of work due to the shelter-in-place restrictions spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The immense financial need in Silicon Valley came into focus last month, when an $11 million coronavirus relief fund launched by Silicon Valley government, business and philanthropic leaders was depleted within three days.

“We weren’t expecting to see 5,000 people within a matter of hours,” said Poncho Guevara, executive director of Sacred Heart Community Services.

Based near downtown San Jose, the nonprofit is responsible for getting resources to those in need and the money out to applicants in the form of checks, electronic transfers and other methods, such as gift cards for those who do not have bank accounts.

While the initial funding is already spoken for, the fundraising continues.

“We’re trying to raise tens of millions more,” Guevara said. “We want to help as many people as we can.”

While this is good news, Guevara cautions that the community’s needs will always surpass what Sacred Heart and other organizations can provide because the those needs are so great.

With that in mind, there are steps Silicon Valley residents can take if they are struggling to make rent.

Know your rights

Both Santa Clara County and San Jose leaders have issued eviction moratoriums to protect renters who are unable to pay rent due to loss of income spurred by the coronavirus.

The moratoria are in effect until May 31. San Jose city councilmembers shot down a proposal to suspend rent for three months for struggling families but gave direction to draft a rent freeze initiative that places a moratorium on rent increases for all rent-controlled properties and mobile home parks.

A good first step is to speak with your landlord, suggests Guevera. If you know you’re going to have trouble making rent, it’s good to be upfront with your landlord early on and potentially work out a payment plan. Tenants can use this form to provide their landlord with documentation of a loss of income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Visit the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing website for answers to frequently asked questions about the eviction ban.

Keep these numbers handy

For help paying rent, tenants are encouraged to call the county’s Family Supportive Housing Services at (408) 926-8885 or visit Sacred Heart’s website at https://sacredheartcs.org/covid19/. Tenants can add their name to an “interest list” for when more funding is made available.

The organization handles everything related to homeless prevention and will direct callers to the appropriate resources based on where they live in the county.

If you still have concerns about being evicted, call the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley for help. The housing intake line can be reached at (408) 280-2424.

“Tenants can call us with any questions about their rights or to access legal services,” said Michael Trujillo, staff attorney for the foundation.

Seek additional support

Since it is not known when more coronavirus relief funding will be made available in the county, it’s smart to go after any benefits you can, nonprofit leaders say. Apply for unemployment and food stamps or visit food pantries, such as the one at Sacred Heart at 1381 South First Street in San Jose, for supplies.

Finally, Guevara said anyone facing these challenges should urge state lawmakers to work toward some form of rent relief to ensure that residents won’t be kicked out of their homes. You can also sign up to be on Sacred Heart’s interest list for when the next round of funding comes available.

For a full list of resources on paying rent, deferring mortgage payments, finding free meals, looking for employment and mental health resources, visit the Silicon Valley Strong homepage at https://siliconvalleystrong.org/.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at [email protected] or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: In a new series focused on bringing you “news you can use” during the crisis, we provide tips and explanatory stories to help you survive the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you want to know? Let us know: [email protected]

Catch up on our other stories:

How to apply for unemployment benefits in California

Make your own CDC-approved mask (plus how to store it)

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