The San Diego City Council Tuesday approved Mayor Todd Gloria's proposal to establish a $5 million legal defense fund to help struggling tenants potentially facing eviction due to non-payment of rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legal aid program is intended to use $5 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds to provide eviction-prevention education and legal assistance. It will be administered by the San Diego Housing Commission and open to undocumented residents.
"I want to thank the City Council for their support to establish this important program that will provide legal assistance to San Diego tenants who need it most," Gloria said. "Along with our successful rent relief efforts, this program will make a difference in the lives of countless San Diegans who might be facing the threat of eviction during this difficult time."
The creation of the program supplements the city's COVID-19 Housing Stability Assistance Program, which has helped roughly 12,000 San Diego households pay overdue rent and utility bills, according to the city. As of the end of September, more than $103 million had been paid out. The remaining funds in the program have been fully committed to renters whose applications have received preliminary approval.
"I was pleased to make the motion in support of this vital program," Council President Pro Tem Stephen Whitburn said. "Evictions often lead to homelessness, and we simply can't afford to have more San Diegans living on the streets.
"I thank Mayor Gloria and the Housing Commission for proposing assistance to renters who find themselves on the brink of homelessness," he added.
Gloria said he is continuing to work with federal and state officials to secure additional rental assistance funding for San Diego.
Until March 31, landlords who want to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent -- when a tenant has experienced a COVID-19-related hardship -- must show that they applied for rental assistance and it was denied. If the landlord cannot demonstrate this, the case will be dismissed.
The state has said it has at least $1.4 billion in rent relief to still distribute.
Through Sept. 30, California’s COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act and the COVID-19 Rental Housing Recovery Act helped protect tenants facing pandemic-related financial impact from eviction for nonpayment of rent if the tenant gives the landlord a signed declaration.
Starting Oct. 1, the state’s website says a landlord must apply for rental assistance before they can try to evict a tenant through the courts for failing to pay their rent.