SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved the use of $500,000 in emergency rental assistance funds to help county renters facing eviction pay back rent.
The funds—which come from the Planning and the Housing for Health departments and the Health Services Agency—could also cover legal assistance and mediation, flexible financial assistance, tenant rights education and counseling and case management services.
The item came to the board one week before the statewide eviction moratorium ends on March 31.
And with time running out for that assistance, Housing for Health Division Director Robert Ratner says it’s “critical” that anyone who needs the help apply for it immediately.
The county is part of the statewide Housing is Key program, which allowed officials to leverage state funding to help pay back rent during the statewide moratorium.
According to Ratner, 3,531 households within the county have applied for more than $55.6 million in assistance as of March 10, which makes up about 10% of the county’s renters. Of these applications,1,392 have been granted roughly $15.1 million.
Additionally, some $16 million has been paid to landlords for rent owed due to pandemic-related job or income losses, with an average award exceeding $10,000, county spokesman Jason Hoppin said.
Additional protections are possible under the 2019 Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482), which requires “just cause” evictions and limits annual rent increases. And it appears that protections have been working. Local evictions remain low, with just 23 cases filed during the first two months of 2022, according to Hoppin.
Ratner said that, in addition to helping renters catch up with what they owe, they also need additional support to make sure that they can remain in their rentals.
“I think our services really need to be geared towards helping people sustain housing, not just paying the back rent,” he said.
Other Santa Cruz County cities are also addressing the moratorium’s upcoming sunset. The Santa Cruz City Council, for instance, discussed how it would enact a local eviction moratorium for renters that have applied for the state’s rent relief program but have not yet received funds.
The Watsonville City Council, meanwhile, was set to meet in a special session on Wednesday to discuss eviction protections and free up funds to help renters impacted by the pandemic. But that meeting was canceled Wednesday morning. It is expected to be rescheduled for sometime next week before the March 31 deadline.
Tenants can apply for the COVID-19 Rent Relieve program at HousingIsKey.com, or visit the Self-Help Center in Santa Cruz County Superior Court.