West Marin groups step in to provide rental assistance

05/06/2020

May’s rent is past due, and many cannot pay it. 

The Bolinas Community Land Trust, along with the San Geronimo Valley Community Center and West Marin Community Services, is providing assistance for West Marin residents in need while a county rental assistance program is struggling to meet skyrocketing demand. 

“We’d be in big trouble otherwise,” said Pam Springer, a longtime waitress at the Coast Café who received rental assistance from the Bolinas land trust for April and May. “We actually have really high rent, and with me not working and my husband’s work a lot less, it wouldn’t be possible.”

The three local groups received around $30,000 each for rental assistance out of the pot of funds generated by West Marin’s extra transient occupancy tax, which taxes visitors to short-term rentals. The Bolinas trust is relying on hefty private donations while the other two groups were also awarded monies from the Marin Community Foundation, much of which was earmarked for rental assistance.

Evie Wilhelm, the managing director of the B.C.L.T., has received 94 applications from Bolinas and Stinson residents over the past several months. The trust was able to pay the landlords of 66 of those applicants to date, to the tune of $70,768. Not all of that money came out of the Measure W pot; the trust has generated an additional $250,600 for emergency assistance since the outbreak of Covid-19 from private donations. 

The next round of checks will be cut on May 15. Ms. Wilhelm said she thinks the nonprofit can meet needs through June. Still, she has had to create a point system to separate people into three groups: urgent, intermediate and moderate.

In the San Geronimo Valley, Alexa Davidson, a program coordinator for the community center, said 27 residents applied for rental assistance for April; 26 received $500, which was the cap, and one received a grant of $400. The total of $13,400 all came from the T.O.T.

Fifty-five valley residents requested financial support beyond rent, and the community center gave a total of $27,445 to those individuals out of monies received from both private donors and the Marin Community Foundation, which awarded the group $50,000 in March. 

“Our next round of applications opened on May 1 and will be accepted through May 15. The second-round distributions will be made by May 22,” Ms. Davidson said. 

Socorro Romo, the executive director of West Marin Community Services, said the group has handed out a total of $90,000 to 58 families. That money came from a variety of sources, including from private donations, the T.O.T., the West Marin Fund and the Marin Community Foundation, which offered $75,000 in March. 

The nonprofit has also been asked to link coastal residents to the funds provided by the countywide assistance program, though to date the program has not provided for many. 

Fifteen of the families W.M.C.S. helped were referred to Community Action Marin, which is one of the five groups chosen by the county to distribute the county’s rental assistance. 

For the most part, the countywide effort is unable to meet demand.  

At the end of March, after supervisors allocated $650,000 to provide rental assistance to low-income residents, the county received $2.4 million worth of requests for rental assistance from 1,500 individuals, two-thirds of them in the Canal area. 

After providing for 480 residents identified as low-income, the fund was drained. 

“The need has been extreme,” Ashley Hart McIntyre, a policy analyst for Health and Human Services, told the Board of Supervisors at a hearing last month. She said the need might diminish somewhat as the federal stimulus money starts reaching people, but that “We are also having the agencies who are administering the rental assistance dollars make sure that people are also applying for unemployment assistance as well.”

In the last week of April, supervisors added another $1 million to the rental assistance fund to address pending requests and to pay back rents, with equal contributions from the county’s general fund and the Marin Community Foundation. 

The board also revamped an eviction ban it put in place in March. The moratorium on evictions due to income loss from circumstances related to either Covid-19 or the shelter order now extends through May 31 and there will be a 90-day grace period after that for tenants to pay back rent. 

Ms. Springer, who has lived in Bolinas for nearly three decades and has two children, said before the pandemic her family had considered leaving the area, in part due to the high cost of housing and rental insecurity. But now, “with this happening,” she said, “I don’t ever want to not be here: it’s our home.” 

Yet while she’s busy preparing free meals for others in town and teaching her 9-year-old at home, making an income is looking harder and harder. “I need to make money to feed the kids. But my son’s school load just got crazy, and I just don’t know how I am supposed to do all of this,” she said.