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May 17, 2021

County supervisors approve rental assistance program

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan to join a state-run rent relief program, which makes more than $16 million in federal funds available to local renters unable to pay their rent and utilities due to the pandemic.

Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, $25 billion is available nationwide for emergency rent support. Under that program, assistance to low-income renters in Santa Cruz County is available to help with rent, utilities and home energy costs, in addition to rent and utilities.

“The ultimate goal is to prevent evictions,” said Principal Planner Suzanne Ise, who works for the county Planning department’s housing division.

The program will prioritize residents considered very low income, or those that make 50 percent or less of the median income, although people that make 80 percent or less of the median income will also be eligible.

The program is expected to launch next month. An application portal will be available through the state’s HousingIsKey.com website. 

Residents who participate must live in a household with at least one individual who qualifies for unemployment, or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced a financial hardship due to Covid-19.

Landlords agreeing to participate may receive payment of 80 percent of past-due rent incurred between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, and must accept the amount as payment in full.

Tenants with landlords declining to participate are still eligible to receive up to 25 percent of back rent.

The county previously allocated $1.1 million of its federal CARES Act funds for a similar rental program for residents impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision should come as good news to several residents in the city of Watsonville. That municipality recently reported that it had roughly $500,000 in unpaid utilities. Public Works & Utilities Department Director Steve Palmisano said that was about double the amount the city normally carries in past due utilities bills.

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