So… What is Rental Relief Anyway? - United Way Bay Area
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So… What is Rental Relief Anyway?

August 29, 2022

Image of City of San Francisco and nearby homes


3 minute read

What It Means in The Current Bay Area Housing Market

The housing market is changing. If you reside in the Bay Area (or even if you don’t), chances are you know the housing crisis is particularly stark here. This is in part because we see some of the more extreme examples of said crisis in real life, as we go about developing new day-to-day routines. The effects of homelessness are in many cases evident, single-family homes are sold and purchased mysteriously without anyone moving in, and the sudden sharp increases in rent – these are the signs of a system in crisis. With eviction moratoriums ending and the rising cost of food forcing families to choose between a meal and a roof over their heads, the risk of housing instability for many residents is also rising.

So, when the United Way Bay Area comes in and says, “We can help you with your rent.” what does that really mean?

I’m glad you asked.

Everything is Connected

Part I. The Long Game

Part of UWBA’s philosophy around ending poverty centers on addressing basic needs. Because each circumstance is unique, we have multiple nuanced approaches to making sure our Bay Area community has what it needs to live healthy, stable lives – this includes housing. We are always pushing to make housing more affordable, equitable, and accessible through various policy initiatives.

Housing protections in the Bay Area vary from county to county, so serving multiple areas, we’re able to see what works in some counties and push for similar solutions in others. As town halls and district assemblies are picking back up in person, we’re showing up to advocate for housing protection extensions and continuing the eviction mortarium. We’ve started attending meetings in Alameda County and will continue to do so throughout the Bay Area to advocate on behalf of our neighbors.

Recently in Antioch, we supported residents as they rallied for ordinances to address curbing the massive rent hikes tenants are experiencing, as well as protecting them against harassment and unjust eviction practices. A survey of Antioch renters (PDF), conducted by a coalition including First 5 Contra Costa and Urban Habitat, suggested that on average, 63% of tenant income was spent on rent. When you spend 63% of your income on any one thing it becomes incredibly difficult to address your other basic needs, like food, childcare, or medical expenses. This is why we attended tenant protection meetings, pushing for solutions like rent stabilization, caps on rent increases, and low-income tax-credit housing.

Part II. Here and Now

When you’re in crisis, you need help immediately. All it takes is one unexpected thing to happen, to enter the cycle of homelessness. A family member gets sick and requires medical attention, someone is laid off, a rent hike or even a pandemic – any one of these can cause even the best-laid plans to crumble. For these cases, we can help provide rental assistance through our 211 and SparkPoint programs.

Take Elisabeth. She didn’t experience just one of these challenges, she experienced all of them. Being able to assist her directly with her rent payment through the UWBA Rental Relief Fund meant that she had just enough financial wiggle room to address her other serious needs like her daughter’s medical care. It was also the difference in facing the prospect of experiencing homelessness. This assistance she received helped to maintain housing stability and now her family can have a better chance of rebounding from the effects of the pandemic.

When Bay Area residents, like Elisabeth, struggle and veer this close to crisis, being able to step in with support from UWBA programs is crucial.

The Need is Great

We’ve seen an increase in calls to 211 about housing and rental assistance even since the beginning of the fiscal year. To date, we’ve received nearly 51,000 calls from our neighbors with housing/shelter needs – more than double the calls from last year. Our community-based partners are reporting the need for rental relief is still great on this side of the pandemic, citing that many are waiting for funds to come through or have given up seeking assistance altogether because of the backlog. In short, many of our communities around the Bay are still recovering from the financial burdens the pandemic imposed.
Why? Well partly because rents are going up. Inflation has pretty much hit every aspect of life; housing is no different. A March report from Realtor.com showed overall median rental costs for the San Francisco Bay Area had increased roughly 17% year over year for 0-2 bedroom properties, noting that asking rents were “hitting new heights.” As we’ve seen, the price increases for everything like food or gas, or other essentials, force tenants to make difficult and sometimes impossible decisions about basic needs.
The shortage in housing availability is another reason. Single-family homes are being purchased, in some cases renovated, and then placed back on the market at much higher rental rates which inadvertently pushes current tenants out in favor of “newer” clientele specifically and gentrifies the community more broadly.

Maintaining Access Across the Board

When UWBA talks about rental relief broadly, what we’re really talking about is housing access and stability. Protecting our neighbors’ access to housing is a fundamental way of addressing poverty. With our health crisis transitioning and the potential for a greater economic crisis looming, when we discuss rental relief, we are talking about whether individuals and families have a place to live. That conversation makes all the difference in how they’re able to live, thrive, and contribute back to the community.

Residents of the Bay Area should have affordable ways to remain living here. But these initiatives are only made possible by your support. Donate today and help us push for a more accessible and affordable Bay Area. Please check out our resources page for more information on how you can join the fight against poverty.