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Sonoma County extends rental assistance program

 

By Tracy Salcedo

Sonoma County renters and landlords struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic can breathe a little easier now that the county has expanded offerings and extended deadlines for its Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Resources available through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program were initially enacted in spring 2021 and have recently been expanded to provide “broader rental assistance, more equitable access, and housing stability throughout the county,” according to a press release. The eviction moratorium has also been extended until Nov. 1, 2021.

The county program has been bolstered by passage of California’s Assembly Bill 832, which extends the eviction moratorium statewide and also prohibits actions in small claims court to recover COVID-19 rental debt through Nov. 1.

In addition, the bill amends the compensation rate for an eligible household’s unpaid rental debt accumulated since April 1, 2020, to 100 percent, and sets assistance for future payments at 100 percent of a household’s monthly rent. Those rates were previously 80 percent, and landlords who have accepted 80 percent of arrears will be reimbursed the remaining 20 percent without needing to reapply.

According to the release, the county has provided more than $5.3 million in rental assistance to more than 2,468 local residents through the rental assistance program, and more than $25 million remains in the pot. The funds are available to anyone living in Sonoma County regardless of immigration status, and can be distributed to either renters or landlords.

“We are extremely happy [landlords] will be compensated the full amount during the second round of disbursement,” said Lynda Hopkins, chair of Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors. “This will keep tenants housed [and make] landlords whole … Our community continues to demonstrate its resilience by coming together during these hard times and truly demonstrating the meaning of being Sonoma Strong.” According to the release, in addition to assistance for both pastdue and upcoming rental payments, COVID-19-impacted landlords and tenants can apply to offset other housing expenses, such as moving costs, settling arrears for previous rentals, hotel stays during transitions, and security deposits. The “one-application-per-household” rule has been discontinued as well, so roommates and people living in multifamily housing units may apply. Under the expanded program, tenants and landlords may apply for a combined total of 18 months’ worth of rental support. “These new changes remove barriers that were limiting our more vulnerable community members from applying and receiving the support they needed,” said Sonoma County’s Interim Director of Health Services, Tina Rivera.

About $889 million has been allocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, including Sonoma County, for pandemic rent relief by the U.S. Treasury, according to an article by Lauren Hepler published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Aug. 3 (www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/This-is-how-little-California-rentrelief-16361263.php). Only 10 percent of those funds have made it to landlords and tenants throughout the nine-county region, Hepler writes, and six percent of Treasury funds allocated to Sonoma County have been disbursed. The reasons behind thus-far limited payouts regionwide are many, and range from limited broadband access to applicants needing to navigate a “pathwork” of programs, according to the report.

Sonoma County landlords and tenants may apply for assistance online, and can get help with their applications in English or Spanish from one of the community-based organizations listed on www.SoCo-Emergency.org (www.socoemergency.org/emergency/novel-coronavirus/finance-housing/housing-andrenter-support). For more information, visit www.SoCoEmergency.org/erap or call 2-1-1.

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