Marin County is working to get millions of dollars in rental assistance funds out to tenants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic before a protection against evictions expires at the end of this month.
County supervisors approved a $347,500 contract Tuesday with LiveStories Inc., which will boost the number of case managers processing the applications from 20 to 30. The supervisors also approved a $123,846 contract with Neighborly Software.
“We’ve experienced some challenges with the software system we’re currently on,” Hyacinth Hinojosa, deputy county administrator, told supervisors on Tuesday. The county’s contract with Unqork Inc., a software company based in New York City, expires on Wednesday.
Hinojosa said he expects the switch to the new system to go smoothly. Nevertheless, the public’s computer portal to the program will be offline for a week during the transition, and applicants will have to log their credentials into the new system.
“To date, we’ve expended about $21.5 million in rental assistance in the county of Marin, and we have approximately $14.8 million that we’re still working to distribute in the community,” Hinojosa said. The money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 trillion federal coronavirus relief package.
“Since January, we’ve assisted another 188 unique households,” Hinojosa said. “That brings the total to 1,335 households in Marin that we’ve been able to assist.”
Hinojosa said the county has 845 applications under review and another 1,100 applications that might merit review. In addition, 200 people who submitted applications after Jan. 8 are on a waiting list for assistance.
Hinojosa said he believes the remaining $14.8 million will be sufficient to meet the requests that were submitted before Jan. 8. He said the people on the waiting list were told there is no guarantee they will receive assistance.
Chris Bolay, a Marin resident on the waiting list, spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting. Bolay urged the supervisors to request more rental assistance funding from the state so the county can assist people on the waiting list.
Bolay reminded the supervisors that protection from eviction provided by Assembly Bill 832 expires on March 31. The law requires landlords to apply for rental assistance and be denied before initiating eviction proceedings against any tenant who owes back rent prior to Oct. 1.
“If the board doesn’t do something,” Bolay said, “several hundred more families are going to become homeless at the end of the month.”
Supervisor Damon Connolly asked Hinojosa, “Do we need to request additional money from the state?”
Hinojosa said, “I think we have sufficient funds.”
In an interview following the meeting, Hinojosa said he is assuming that about 50% of the 1,945 applications that are in some stage of review will ultimately not be approved. He said some might be duplicates and others might be ineligible.
Hinojosa said the county will close its waiting list when it switches to the new computer system, which could be as early as next week.
Hinojosa said the county has been prioritizing rental assistance applications from tenants under imminent threat of eviction and will continue to do so. He said that since the state moratorium on evictions expired on Sept. 30, 186 applicants under threat of eviction have received assistance through an expedited process.
Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters asked what effect AB 832 sunsetting at the end of this month would have on renters facing the risk of eviction.
Hinojosa said, “While our cases are pending, landlords cannot proceed with an eviction because the tenant has not yet received a final determination from us.”
To provide further assistance to renters facing eviction, County Administrator Matthew Hymel said he will bring a proposal to the board next week to continue funding of Legal Aid of Marin through fiscal year 2022-23.
In September 2020, the county allocated $310,000 to Legal Aid of Marin to provide legal services to low-income renters.
Hinojosa said the county is providing funds only to tenants making 30% of area median income or less. He said the county will begin funding applications of tenants making 50% of area median income or less when all the lower-income applicants have been served.
Gary Armor, who is trying to recover $80,000 in back rent owed to him by a tenant who rented his house in Belvedere, said he is frustrated with the response he has received from Hinojosa.
“All he keeps telling me is three or four months, three or four months, be patient,” said Armor, who filed his application in April 2021.
Hinojosa told supervisors Tuesday that he expects to complete distribution of the remaining $14.9 million by September.