SLO County tenants and landlords can now apply for rent relief under state program


Landlords and low-income tenants with unpaid back rent due to COVID-19 impacts can now apply for rental assistance under a new state program that launched March 16.

The California COVID-19 Rent Relief program will leverage $2 billion in federal stimulus funds to assist eligible landlords and tenants statewide.

AID COMING California launched a new rental relief program to help landlords and tenants pay back rent accumulated during the pandemic. - FILE IMAGE BY ALEX ZUNIGA
  • AID COMING California launched a new rental relief program to help landlords and tenants pay back rent accumulated during the pandemic.
To qualify, tenants must be able to document an economic hardship due to COVID-19, owe back rent from April 2020 to March 2021, and earn a household income of $58,800 or less (80 percent of median income). Applicants will not be asked about their citizenship status.

“Everybody that qualifies should apply,” said Janna Nichols, executive director of the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition. “Fill the whole thing out. Tell the whole story.”

Here’s the gist of the program: Landlords who apply can be made 80-percent whole by the state for their missing rent from qualified tenants—if they agree to waive 20 percent. If a landlord is unwilling to participate, low-income tenants can receive aid for 25 percent of their owed back rent, as well as 25 percent of their future rent—and help with utility bills—to avoid eviction through June 2021.

If that sounds confusing, the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition, United Way of SLO County, and Salvation Army SLO Corps are all under contract to help community members navigate the application process. There is also a state phone assistance hotline: (833) 430-2122.

“The documentation being asked for isn’t insurmountable, but it is complex,” Nichols told New Times. “We’ll be doing Zoom, we’ll be doing telephone support, and we’ll also go to people’s doorsteps, if necessary.”

Nichols said that the state appears to be encouraging all eligible landlords and tenants to apply—no matter the dynamic or degree of communication between a given landlord and tenant. Sorting out what type of aid will be delivered and to whom will be determined later.

“On the backside, they’ve worked out some case management coordination to put tenants and landlords together and make that negotiation,” Nichols said.

While the funds are currently limited to renters who owe back rent and prioritized first to tenants who earn less than 50 percent of median income, Nichols said the program could evolve. She encouraged applicants to explain both their past and future hardships related to COVID-19, noting that it’s a one-time chance to apply.

“If you know you’re going to need help with future rent, don’t leave that out,” she said. “Put it in because you’re not going to be able to go back again.” ∆

—Peter Johnson

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