Marin rushes to distribute rental aid before evictions resume

Marin County is working to provide millions of dollars in rental assistance funds to tenants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic before eviction protection expires at the end of this month.

County supervisors on Tuesday approved a $347,500 contract with LiveStories Inc., which will increase the number of case managers processing claims from 20 to 30. Supervisors also approved a $123,846 contract with Neighborly Software .

“We have encountered difficulties with the software system that we are currently on,” Hyacinth Hinojosa, deputy county administrator, told supervisors on Tuesday. The county’s contract with Unqork Inc., a New York-based software company, expires Wednesday.

Hinojosa said he expects the transition to the new system to go smoothly. However, the public computer portal to the program will be offline for one week during the transition, and applicants will need to register their credentials in the new system.

“To date, we have spent approximately $21.5 million in rental assistance in Marin County, and we have approximately $14.8 million that we are 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 program.

“Since January, we’ve helped another 188 unique households,” Hinojosa said. “This brings the total to 1,335 households in Marin that we have been able to assist.”

Hinojosa said the county has 845 claims under review and another 1,100 claims that may merit review. Additionally, 200 people who submitted claims after Jan. 8 are on a waiting list for help.

Hinojosa said he believed the remaining $14.8 million would be enough to meet claims submitted by Jan. 8. He said those on the waiting list were told there was no guarantee they would receive help.

Chris Bolay, a Marin resident on the waitlist, spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting. Bolay urged supervisors to seek more state housing assistance funds so the county can help those on the waiting list.

Bolay reminded supervisors that the deportation protection provided by Assembly Bill 832 expires on March 31. The law requires landlords to apply for housing assistance and be denied before initiating eviction proceedings against any tenant who owes rent in arrears before October 1.

“If the council does nothing,” Bolay said, “several hundred families will be left homeless by the end of the month.”

Supervisor Damon Connolly asked Hinojosa, “Do we need to ask the state for more money?

Hinojosa said, “I think we have enough funds.”

In an interview after the meeting, Hinojosa said he assumed about 50% of the 1,945 applications that are in a review stage will ultimately not be approved. He said some might be duplicates and some might be ineligible.

Hinojosa said the county will close its wait list when it upgrades to the new computer system, which could be as early as next week.

Hinojosa said the county is prioritizing housing assistance applications from tenants facing imminent eviction and will continue to do so. He said since the state’s moratorium on evictions expired Sept. 30, 186 applicants facing eviction have received expedited assistance.

Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters asked what effect the cancellation of AB 832 at the end of this month would have on tenants facing the risk of eviction.

Hinojosa said, “While our cases are ongoing, the landlords cannot proceed with an eviction because the tenant has not yet received a final decision from us.”

To provide further assistance to tenants facing eviction, County Administrator Matthew Hymel said he will present a proposal to council next week to continue funding Marin’s legal aid through fiscal year 2022. -23.

In September 2020, the county awarded Legal Aid of Marin $310,000 to provide legal services to low-income tenants.

Hinojosa said the county only provides funds to renters earning 30% of the area’s median income or less. He said the county will begin funding applications from tenants earning 50% of the area’s median income or less when all low-income applicants have been served.

Gary Armour, who is trying to collect $80,000 in back rent owed to him by a tenant who rented his home in Belvedere, said he was frustrated with the response he received from Hinojosa.

“All he keeps telling me is three or four months, three or four months, be patient,” said Armor, who filed in April 2021.

Hinojosa told supervisors on Tuesday that he expects to finish distributing the remaining $14.9 million by September.

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