Marin County will use millions of dollars in federal money originally provided for rent assistance to people affected by COVID-19 to fund a broader program designed to help renters and prevent homelessness.
After distributing $27 million in rental aid to more than 1,900 families since April 2020, the county has $4.6 million left and may be able to access another $4 million in federal funds, County Deputy Administrator Hyacinth Hinojosa told county supervisors Tuesday.
Supervisors have authorized the use of $4.6 million to fund several housing-related initiatives, including $2.8 million to provide additional rental assistance to Marin residents.
Since March 2020, Marin County has received more than $33 million in federal funds, about half of which has been earmarked to compensate landlords for rent their tenants have been prevented from paying due to the effects of COVID-19. The other half of the federal money is also earmarked for rent assistance, but the rules governing that are more flexible.
Before receiving the federal funds, the county had already received $6 million from the Marin Community Foundation to help renters.
Marine’s first allocation of rent-assistance money from the federal government, about $16.7 million, came through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. This spending bill, which former President Donald Trump signed into law, saved $900 billion in stimulus to the COVID-19 pandemic. , including just $25 billion to be used to compensate landlords for unpaid rent.
Marine’s second allocation from the federal government, about $16.6 million, came through the 2021 American Bailout Act, which was enacted after Joe Biden became president.
“The use of these funds should not be specifically related to the epidemic,” Hinojosa said on Tuesday.
Hinojosa said the province’s new rent assistance program will seek to assist people who were deemed ineligible under the rules of the previous program. This will include people who paid their rent during the pandemic but borrowed money to do so and those who were sub-tenants.
Hinojosa said the new rent assistance program will also provide money to those who need cash to pay their rent or pay security deposits.
The county will prioritize providing assistance to people who earn 80% of the area’s median income, which comes to about $30,000 a year for a single-person household, and applicants who have been evacuees in the past.
In addition, supervisors have agreed to spend more than $439,000 to provide tenant legal assistance, landlord/tenant education and mediation. Supervisors also agreed to spend $250,000 to cover administrative costs for the new rental assistance initiative.
Supervisors also agreed to spend $1.3 million in federal funds on homelessness prevention efforts. The bulk of that amount, $700,000, will be given to the county’s nonprofit partners to distribute to those who need quick cash to pay rent, security deposits or utility expenses to stay in housing.
In addition, $300,000 has been set aside to hire a person to help people for two years apply for federal housing vouchers through the Marine Housing Authority. Another $300,000 has been approved to help secure 10 people’s rents for up to a year while they wait for a federal housing voucher.
Hinojosa said the county was unable to access about $4 million in previously earmarked U.S. bailout funds due to a failure to meet certain criteria, but that it may be able to do so in the future.
Hinojosa told supervisors that the county’s initial rental assistance, which expired on September 30, has processed 100% of about 4,000 applications submitted. After the meeting, he said that up to half of the requests were duplicates.
Hinojosa said the program was successful “because of our community collaboration in leadership with race and equity as one of our core principles.”
Hinojosa said that while the Hispanic population makes up about 16% of Marin’s population, 31% of those who received rental assistance from the county were Hispanic. He said 16% of those who received rental assistance are black and 11% are of mixed race. Black residents represent about 3% of Marin County’s population.
Sixty-nine percent of those who received rental assistance earned only 30 percent of the median income in the area.
County Administrator Matthew Himmel said Marin County chose to run the federal housing funds on its own rather than have the state do it.
“We see the benefits of this decision in the end, because we can reprogram that money for vital services to our residents,” Heimel said.
The process did not always go smoothly. Some owners have complained that the process is going too slowly. Gary Armor said Tuesday that he has not been able to recover $80,000 in rent owed to him by a tenant who rented his Belvedere home.
“Hinojosa staff rejected my application on the grounds that my tenant did not occupy the property, based on the fact that he does not have paid receipts for utilities, garbage, catv/internet etc., which I have all paid for,” Armor wrote in an email. “Obviously they haven’t read the rental agreement which says the landlord must pay all costs.”
In December, Eric Foulkes, a former Marin County official, was accused of embezzling $1.9 million from the county’s rent assistance program, which he helped manage.
Foulkes has pleaded guilty to four counts of grand theft and will begin serving a six-year prison sentence on November 30. So far, Hinojosa said, the county has recovered about half of the money that Foulkes stole.