SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/BCN) — Just one-third of tenants in San Francisco behind on rent will see any kind of help from local and state rent relief programs, which remain underfunded, San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston said Wednesday.

The revelation came during a hearing on rent debt called by Preston at the Board of Supervisors’ Government Audit and Oversight Committee.

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The hearing was held just as the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office released a study revealing that after 15 months, unpaid rent in the city has grown to somewhere between $147 million and $355 million.

Although the state’s COVID-19 Rent Relief Program will cover rent debt from April 2020 through March 2021, San Francisco’s Emergency Rental Assistance program covers the period after that, from April 2021 to December 2021. Both programs are funded entirely with federal money.

While an estimated 24,500 San Francisco tenants are behind on rent, local and state rent relief programs may only reach about 8,500 tenants, according to the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

Supervisor Dean Preston speaks on Nov. 2, 2020, in Japantown, San Francisco, Calif. (photo courtesy of Supervisor Preston’s Office)

“Our focus has been on low- and very low-income, so the total number of those behind in rent may not match with the priority populations that we’ve been identifying through our various programs,” MOHCD Director Eric Shaw said at the hearing.

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“We are getting hundreds of calls from tenants who are trying to navigate the state program and the local program,” said Gen Fujioka with the San Francisco Anti Displacement Coalition. “But we recognize that many won’t meet the city’s criteria, defined as the most vulnerable, and they will therefore be denied any assistance.”

“My concern is that the hearing really confirmed the fact that one in three, roughly, households who are facing rent debt will be helped by these programs, and that includes state and local programs,” Preston said. “I think it’s unacceptable to say that two-thirds of people with back rent debt are going to be left without assistance.”

Along with challenges reaching all residents in need, Preston and housing advocates said difficulties with funding the city’s rent relief program remain. Although the city has received $90 million in state funding for rent relief, even in the best-case scenario, the city’s rent relief program remains some $57 million short of meeting the need.

To further fund the program, Preston is urging the Board of Supervisors to include funds from Proposition I in the upcoming budget, which is currently under review. Prop I is a tax measure passed by voters in November 2020 for rent relief, generating more than $50 million so far since taking effect in January.

“I would urge the state to also contribute state money to this effort, not just the pass through of federal money,” Preston said. “But in San Francisco we need to do our part as well. We passed Proposition I very clearly with an express purpose of providing rent relief with half the funds and we have more funds than anticipated, thankfully. I am looking forward to working with colleagues and the Mayor’s Office to make sure that we can do better than helping one in three people and that we can really ramp these programs up.”

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