The city of Mountain View has now committed just over $2.6 million in funding to help struggling renters pay for housing while out of work due to the new coronavirus, pouring more money into the relief effort than almost any other city and county in the Bay Area.
The rental assistance program grants emergency money to city residents at a time when millions of Californians have lost work as a direct result of the virus, including the mandatory shelter-in-place orders that began in March. Though similar local efforts have been launched to prevent a sudden and massive surge in residents who are behind on their rent, demand for help has largely outpaced available funding.
Taking an aggressive approach to the problem, the Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to inject $1 million in additional funding into the citywide rent relief program, bringing the total to $2.6 million. The amount now exceeds funding commitments to similar programs by the cities of San Jose ($2 million), Redwood City ($1.8 million), San Mateo ($440,000) and Sunnyvale ($250,000), according to city staff.
San Mateo County is the only agency to exceed Mountain View with its $3 million rental assistance program, city staff said, though the population of San Mateo County is more than nine times the size of Mountain View.
At the May 5 City Council meeting, Community Services Agency (CSA) Executive Director Tom Myers said the coronavirus has forced the agency to have all hands on deck, and that the number of staffers devoted just to rent relief has ballooned from two people to 14 in recent weeks. The latest count shows CSA has received 1,769 applications for rent relief, 238 of which have been helped so far.
Though aid money is far outstripped by demand in Santa Clara County at large, Myers said Mountain View has stepped up to the plate with its unusually large funding commitment.
"All of us should be really proud of that," he said.
City officials have been scrounging since March for money that can be shifted toward the emergency effort, with the latest $1 million round of funding coming directly from the city's affordable housing fund. In the past, city officials have pulled money out of current and even future federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant funds. City Council members requested the extra $1 million from elsewhere in the budget, with the only stipulation that it not pilfer from the general fund.
Mountain View has largely left it to CSA, a nonprofit offering safety net services, to carry out the program. To date, $489,449 has been spent supporting families in the city, averaging $2,119 in assistance per household.
Under the terms of the program, households are eligible for up to $3,000 per month in assistance -- which is paid directly to landlords -- and tenants must provide proof that they have lost income as a result of the coronavirus. That could mean not only job losses and reduced work hours, but increased medical and child care costs.
Families making up to 120% of the area median income (AMI) can qualify for assistance, amounting to nearly $153,000 for a family of four. Almost all of the recipients are low-income families. By the latest tally, nearly 73% of those who received assistance are considered extremely or very low-income -- earning below $79,000 for a family of four.
Researchers estimate that as many as 126,200 households in the South Bay metropolitan area have been immediately impacted by the coronavirus and shelter orders, a problem that will likely be exacerbated in an area that has some of the country's highest housing costs. The median rent for the area, $2,280, means that families will face spending more than half of even the most generous unemployment benefits to pay for housing.
Mountain View residents seeking rental assistance can contact CSA at RentHelp@CSACares.org or leave a voicemail at 650-968-0836.