San Francisco Supervisor Asha Safai speaks about a proposed rent relief fund for small business owners struggling to pay back rent outside of Manny’s Cafe at 3092 16th St. in San Francisco, Calif. (Daniel Montes/Bay City News)

A new pilot program in San Francisco will provide rent relief for small businesses that have unpaid commercial back rent caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Supervisor Ahsha Safai announced on Wednesday.

Under the COVID-19 Small Business Rent Relief Pilot Program, the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development will administer grants of up to $35,000 per businesses that qualify.

Safai authored the ordinance to create the program, with Mayor London Breed approving it and allocating $2 million to fund it.

“Small businesses in San Francisco have a long road to recovery,” Safai said in a statement. “While you may still see your favorite local business open, it doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling to make ends meet. The COVID-19 Small Business Rent Relief Pilot Program is designed to help small businesses that have unpaid commercial back rent sustain their business for the future.”

Golden Gate Restaurant Association executive director Laurie Thomas said, “So many of our restaurants, cafes and bars were closed for months, incurring significant rent liabilities without incoming revenue to help pay for it. This program will provide a lifeline to those in our community who are facing closures without the ability to access financial assistance.”

The Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Legislative Analyst estimates that due to the pandemic, the total commercial back rent owed in San Francisco amounts to more than $500 million.

According to Safai, the grants will incentivize property owners to negotiate payment of rent debts by allowing businesses to use the grants to pay off a portion of their owed rent. Additionally, the grants aim to help small businesses that have received little to no relief funds from the federal government.

The need for the relief funds comes after a statewide commercial eviction moratorium enacted by Gov. Gavin Newsom at the start of the pandemic ended back in September.

City officials are currently deciding on eligibility requirements and anticipate launching grant applications at the end of February.

Businesses interested in applying to the program can find updates at