The Santa Cruz County administrative building on Ocean Street.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Rent relief: Nearly $17 million in aid to soon be available to Santa Cruz County tenants

A state program scheduled to launch next month will set aside close to $17 million for eligible Santa Cruz County residents struggling to pay their rents and utility bills due to the pandemic. Separately, Santa Cruz County small businesses, too, can soon look forward to more financial relief.

Low-income residents in Santa Cruz County struggling to pay rent and utility bills will soon be able to tap into close to $17 million in federal pandemic-relief funds as California prepares to launch a new rental assistance program next month.

County supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved the county’s participation in the state program, scheduled to launch by March 15. The move means the county — through a reimbursement agreement with the state — will commit an $8.1 million federal grant it received in mid-January to the state program in order to obtain an additional aid allocation of about $8.8 million.

Although the program will be administered through the state, the county’s funds will be reserved for eligible residents in Santa Cruz County. The program is open to qualified renters in unincorporated Santa Cruz County and its cities.

“The ultimate goal is to prevent eviction,” said Suzanne Ise, a principal planner with the county’s planning department in the housing division.

It’s not yet clear how many people in the county and its cities will be able to benefit from the state program. That’s because there is not a specific dollar limit on assistance per household, according to County Spokesman Jason Hoppin.

But, assuming an average cost of $10,000 per assisted household, about 1,500 households or potentially more could receive aid, Hoppin wrote in an email. But the actual number who could receive assistance could be higher or lower than that depending on the average amounts paid per household, he said.

“In addition, the County may be able to receive additional funds through this program, as the State will reallocate any funds not used by a certain date (June or thereabouts) to counties which have used up their initial allocations,” Hoppin wrote.

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An application portal will be available through the website where residents can also find an Area Median Income calculator to help determine if they’re eligible. The state will also partner with local community-based organizations to help eligible residents sign up.

“For instance, if people do not have smartphones or good internet or cellphone connections to be able to do the online process, there will be facilities locally where they can submit those applications on paper or however they need to do it,” Ise said.

Households which earn up to 80% of the Area Median Income will be eligible, with a priority for those who earn up to 50% AMI and those who have been unemployed for 90 days prior to the date of application. The income levels eligible for the program vary on the size of the household.

In Santa Cruz County, at 80% of the AMI, an individual can earn up to $74,350 annually to qualify for the program. For a household of four that number is $106,200.

A table shows the Area Median Income limits for Santa Cruz County as of May 15, 2020.
(Santa Cruz County)

“Renter households must also include 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, or demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability,” according to a county news release.

Landlords who agree to participate in the program would accept 80% of rent arrearages for a given tenant as payment in full for a period spanning April 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021. That allows the funds for the program to stretch further, helping more households.

Tenants with landlords who decline to participate are still eligible to receive up to 25% of back rent owed.

Last year, the county implemented a similar rental assistance program with $1.1 million from its share of federal aid received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act.

That program was able to help 205 residents in unincorporated areas, Hoppin said. Cities had access to their own CARES funding that could be used for that purpose.

Small businesses to tap $2.75 million grant pool

Santa Cruz County small businesses, too, can soon look forward to more financial relief.

U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, announced Tuesday that the county will receive a $2.75 million grant to help small businesses keep the lights on as they try to stay afloat through the pandemic. That federal funding comes by way of the CARES Act and will be matched with $687,500 in local funds, according to a news release.

The initiative is expected to create 18 jobs, retain 138 positions, and generate $1 million in private investment, the release states.

“These types of funds from the Economic Development Administration will be used to recapitalize Santa Cruz County’s revolving loan fund,” Panetta said in the release. “Our local small businesses then can use these funds to not only stay open during this pandemic, but also to play a critical part our community’s and country’s economic recovery.”