Two months after the city of Half Moon Bay awarded $200,000 to two local nonprofits to help residents and workers avoid evictions, 15 percent of the funds have been spent in rental assistance checks.

Between Sept. 1 and Oct. 28, $31,936 had been used to pay for current month’s rent for 23 households, which covered 77 individuals.

“It seems a little slow, but it’s a significant amount,” said Judith Guerrero, executive director of Coastside Hope, one of the grant recipients. “The previous year, we’ve never spent that much money on rental assistance.”

In keeping with the grant’s creation as a source of relief in emergencies, the two recipients of the grant, Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Coastside Hope, have helped families pay for the current month’s rent. These families, Guerrero said, will continue to face hardship until full employment returns.

Guerrero said the goal remains the same as at the start of the pandemic: to keep people housed and prevent the eviction process from ever beginning.

Guerrero fears that while the latest statewide eviction moratorium is valid until Feb. 1, 2021, once a landlord triggers an eviction, either mistakenly or maliciously, it could lead to homelessness, which, even if temporary, could become hard to reverse, she said.

“Being homeless is not good. But being homeless in this situation is worse,” Guerrero said, referring to the pandemic.

So far, there have been no evictions among the households that have used the city’s emergency housing grant, she said. The closest a client came to an eviction was a three-day notice. But Coastside Hope staff were able to reach an agreement with the landlord and quickly issue a check.

Speed is the program’s biggest advantage. The city housing grant can be issued within one to three days, whereas county funding allocated for similar uses can take about 10 days. County funds, like San Mateo County Strong, also provide direct relief, but have to be coordinated across eight        

core service agencies.

Guerrero said the county funding streams have gotten faster and smoother in recent months as local organizations like hers continue to diversify where they source their aid. Since March, Coastside Hope has been helping multiple families beyond immediate rent. For other needs, like utility bill payments or WiFi, she relies on the county or other discretionary funds.

Though Coastside Hope and St. Vincent de Paul received $100,000 each from the city, in practice the housing grant acts as a single combined pot of $200,000. The two organizations continued a pre-COVID collaboration where Coastside Hope handles the case management and makes referrals to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The agreement between the two organizations and the city was to prioritize using as much of Coastside Hope’s $100,000 share first.

As planned, the money so far has been used by Coastside Hope’s clients. Ginny Marans, engagement team lead at St. Vincent de Paul of San Mateo County, said it received its first referral last week.

“It was amazing when the city of Half Moon Bay did this. It’s the only city where we’ve seen this sizable investment. A lot of cities are doing things, including giving grant money, but nothing that compares to a $200,000 investment,” Marans said.

In December, the city is expected to revisit the terms of the emergency housing grant. It will evaluate the types of cases the two organizations saw over a three-month period to determine whether to continue to limit support to current month’s rent or if other needs are emerging that could be covered.

If she could, Guerrero would guarantee families a minimum of three month’s rent. While she’s already done that by scraping together different funds, no fund is set up to provide that degree of support at the outset. She said she understands that any money can be hard to come by. And with the eviction moratorium just months away, abiding by the city’s emergency housing grant guidelines ensures she can help more families for longer.

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