(Photo illustration by Joaquin Corbalan/Freepik)

With rent debt looming and renters facing eviction after statewide eviction protections end on June 30, San Mateo County supervisors are asking the state to extend its protections through the end of the year.

The county’s Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on Tuesday urging the state to extend protections under Senate Bill 91, the California Tenant Relief Act. They also urged the state to make it easier for tenants and landlords to access rent relief.

Supervisor Don Horsley, who co-sponsored the resolution with Supervisor Warren Slocum, said that people need more time to apply for rental assistance.

“Our goal really is to give folks the opportunity for assistance who are eligible,” Horsley said. “And the additional time and protections will really provide that opportunity.”

Under SB 91, renters who cannot afford to pay rent due to the pandemic cannot be evicted once they pay 25 percent of their rent debt. These protections expire June 30 and renters will owe the full cost of rent starting July 1.

But tenant advocates and renters are worried about what could happen if the state does not act. Over thirty people called in to Tuesday’s meeting, asking that the county pass its own eviction protections.

Advocates with Faith in Action Bay Area, the Peninsula Solidarity Cohort and the local chapter of Showing Up For Racial Justice, or SURJ, called in to ask the board to do more.

“It’s a very important first step, however it’s not enough. There’s no guarantee the state will extend the eviction moratorium. We need to commit to local action,” one caller said.

Another caller, who has lived in Redwood City for 13 years, said that she had never had trouble paying rent until the pandemic hit in March 2020. Her comments were translated from Spanish during the meeting.

“My husband and I and my son, we lost our jobs,” she said via the translator. “Until now, we haven’t been able to get a stable job. We’re going through a very hard economic hardship and with no resources even though I applied for help from the state.”

Some renters said they had applied for assistance from the state but have not yet heard back. Many were worried about being evicted after June 30.

Callers urged the county to make it easier for people to apply for the state’s rental assistance program. The rent relief program is run by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national nonprofit that the state enlisted to manage the program.

The county and its nonprofits are responsible for outreach and helping people with applications.

County Manager Mike Callagy said that $2.2 million had been paid to renters and landlords in the county so far, of the almost $47 million available in the first round of rental assistance funding.

Callagy asked that everyone on the call “act as ambassadors” to connect people to the county’s agencies, which are available to help people submit applications.

“The money is there and we will be happy to look at other ways…to do outreach, whether it’s radio, Spanish radio, TV, whatever it might be, to get the word out because we want every dime of this money to be used,” Callagy said.

Callagy said they are waiting on the state to make changes to the rent relief program, such as possibly allowing landlords to get 100 percent of their owed rent reimbursed. Currently, landlords can get 80 percent paid if they forgive the rest.

Board President David Canepa said the board should be prepared to pass their own ordinance at their June 29 meeting, just in case.

He proposed a 120-day eviction moratorium.

“The stories are really heartbreaking,” Canepa said. “We really need to make a concerted effort to leave no one behind. And no one should go unhoused.”

When asked about the county’s authority to create a countywide eviction moratorium, County Counsel John Beiers said that they would need to think it through.

“We haven’t done a real deep analysis on whether we could, moving forward, do a local eviction moratorium,” Beiers said. “I think the legal landscape is a lot less clear than it was.”

Beiers pointed out that last year’s moratorium was enacted during the shelter-in-place orders, when people were required to stay at home.

“It was kind of a health-based decision to keep people sheltered in place to prevent the transmission of COVID,” Beiers said. “We’re clearly in a different place now as things have evolved.”

A staff report with more information on the resolution is available at https://sanmateocounty.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4976348&GUID=9075335B-CB84-4E4A-92BE-31E089DCF92A&Options=&Search=&FullText=1.

The application for California’s Rent Relief Program is available at https://housing.ca.gov/covid_rr/index.html.