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Marin increases funding for rental assistance program (Marin IJ)

Posted on Category Press Coverage
By  | | Marin Independent Journal
County officials are tapping the last of their pandemic reserves to support a federally funded rental assistance program for low-income Marin residents.Community Action Marin, the San Rafael nonprofit administering the program, said it has more than 400 households on its waitlist, and only enough funding to support about one-third of those applications.The $1.3 million expenditure approved Tuesday will help provide rental assistance for about 217 additional households.“It’s the perfect way to spend this money, I think, because it was intended of this sort of use: COVID, post-COVID recovery,” Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said Tuesday.The supervisors approved the spending with a few conditions. First, they asked for monthly reporting, and an end-of-program summary of how many people were served and who is still left out.Supervisors also asked staff to come back with a plan on how to move forward once the rental assistance money is gone.Marin County ended its direct involvement with rental assistance after distributing $27 million from April 2020 through September 2022. The money came from the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law by President Biden in March 2021.At the time, the county had not exhausted all of the funds potentially available to it. In October, rather than have the county continue to operate the rental assistance program, supervisors approved a $3.2 million contract with Community Action Marin, the largest nonprofit social services provider in Marin, to administer it.

As the need continued, supervisors approved an $4.3 million addendum in March. The contract increased to $7.5 million, continuing the program through Dec. 31.

“These rental assistance funds have served over 5,500 households,” LeeLee Thomas, deputy director of the Marin County Community Development Agency, told the supervisors Tuesday.

The majority of those households are considered extremely low income, which for a family of three, would mean an annual income equal to less than $50,000, Thomas said.

“The funds stabilized existing renters, prevented eviction and homelessness among some of Marin’s most vulnerable families who were impacted by the pandemic,” Thomas said.

Community Action Marin closed its waitlist on Aug. 1. There are 463 households who have pending applications.

As of Tuesday, the nonprofit still had about $885,000 remaining on its previous contract. That was enough to help approximately 147 applications, Thomas said.

County staff presented several options for the board’s consideration.

Two options allowed the supervisors to allocate half of the $1.3 million toward the program. One option would be to focus that $650,000 toward applicants on the waitlist. The other would funnel the money to support those faced with imminent eviction.

Two other options would allocate the full $1.3 million, with the choice of prioritizing the waitlist or eviction prevention.

Gina Guillemette, chief strategy officer of Community Action Marin, said the agency’s strategy is to focus on those who have the lowest income.

Guillemette said people who are that impoverished have lower chances of finding new housing and, if they do, they are unlikely to stay in Marin.

“So our recommendation is that the maximum available funds be added to this program to address need, and really as an anti-displacement measure,” she said.

The program, she said, “has been really effective in helping people stay housed and stable and dig out of the hole from the pandemic.”

Rodoni said the fact that the county has served 5,500 households “is really a great achievement.”

“It’s a lot of people this program has served,” he said. “There’s a potential to serve a few more.”

Rodoni said he preferred to leave the funds unrestricted, so that the nonprofit could use the money for those with the greatest need.

Supervisor Eric Lucan said he agreed with Rodoni.

“I do think that we prioritize the most vulnerable,” Lucan said.

Supervisor Mary Sackett said she preferred to allocate only $650,000 so that the county had some additional funding to help in other areas.

“So I’m concerned about having this cliff of we know there’s going to be people left and not having significant buckets,” Sackett said. “I’m concerned, frankly, about the legal services piece of it.”

Lucan said that’s why he was interested in seeing a report out at the end of the program to help the board evaluate its success and understand what’s still needed.

“It’s never easy to wind down programs like this, but fortunately we have an opportunity to wind it down with maybe a bit of a softer landing,” he said.

Matthew Hymel, county administrator, said prior to the pandemic, the county provided about $25,000 to $50,000 a year to support Legal Aid of Marin’s tenant representation work. Another $35,000 or so in grant funding is also administered through the county to the nonprofit.

During the pandemic, the county increased that support to about $215,000 a year to support the addition of a bilingual attorney and bilingual paralegal, Hymel said. That contract expires at the end of the fiscal year.

Thomas said there is also about $300,000 that has been made available for case management.

Used with permission by the Marin Independent Journal.
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