COVIDNewsSan FranciscoSF Bay Area

How to Get COVID Rent Relief in California

The Bay's best newsletter for underground events & news

There is help out there for millions of Californians still struggling to catch their financial breath after 18 months of pandemic, but navigating the resources can be time consuming and confusing. Here, we’ll try to break down one of the most important (and often frustrating) sources of assistance: the California COVID-19 Rent Relief Program. 

The program is intended as a lifeboat for renters and owners impacted by the pandemic. Applicants can also request help with unpaid utilities. Let’s be honest, the process can be both long and complicated, but applying is absolutely worth it in order to avoid eviction once the moratorium expires on Oct. 1. 

To try and simplify things, we’ll do our best to explain what the program offers, who qualifies and what’s required of each applicant. We’ll also look at how cities like San Francisco are bolstering the state’s rental assistance program.

Housing is Key, California COVID-19 Rent Relief Program logo.

Program Basics

Tenants and landlords can apply for up to 100 percent of unpaid rent dating back to April 2020 and through September of this year — the amount covered was increased from the initial 80 percent offer. The program also allows renters to request up to 12 months of past-due utility payments.

Landlords and utility companies will receive payments directly if they choose to participate in the process. If not, tenants can still apply individually and have the rent allocations sent to them so they can then pay the landlord. Applications are prioritized by need.

The funding does not count as earned income and will not be used to disqualify individuals from other state or county benefits like CalFresh or CalWORKS. Information given will be kept private.

It should be noted that the utility payment assistance has so far lagged pretty severely behind rent payments made under the state program. It might help to send a declaration of financial hardship to utility providers in hopes they’ll keep the power and water on while everyone waits for checks to go out.


California tenants, both citizen and undocumented residents, are eligible for assistance if they meet two primary requirements: they have to attest to a financial hardship caused by the pandemic — wage loss, increased medical or childcare expenses, etc. — and they cannot make more than 80 percent of the median income determined for their area by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

In San Francisco, the maximum income limit is $102,450 for a one-person household and $193,200 for a household of eight people. In a county like Contra Costa, where average income is lower, the maximum income for a one-person household is $70,320 and $132,640 in households with eight people.

How To Apply

You can start the application process by visiting the Housing is Key site once you’ve gathered up all necessary documents. If you need help determining eligibility or completing the application, you can call and speak to a representative at (833) 430-2122. 

You will be asked to provide proof of income for everyone in your household, which can be submitted in the form of a 2020 tax return, 2020 W2 or 1099G, current pay stubs or proof of participation in a state or federal subsidy program, like CalFresh or CalWorks. You’ll need a copy of your rent bill and lease if available, as well as landlord contact information.

If you apply for utility payment assistance, you’ll need to provide copies of statements or invoices for unpaid months. The program says it will help with most basic utilities, including electricity, gas, water, sewage, trash and internet service. 

You should log in frequently after you apply and check for messages — it’s likely you’ll be asked to clarify certain information or provide additional documentation. It is not a fast-paced game, but, again, it’s worth it. Enrollment in the state or a local rent assistance program will protect you from eviction after the statewide moratorium ends on Sept. 30.

The CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program launched an online portal on Monday, March 15, 2021 to help both tenants and landlords impacted by the pandemic. (Photo by Lynn Friedman)

If you meet all the requirements, you can send your landlord a letter so they are aware that you’ve initiated the rent relief process and encourage them to participate in a joint request. 

If you don’t qualify for rental assistance due to excessive income, you can still protect yourself from eviction by paying at least a quarter of what you owe in back-rent by Sept. 30.

Additional Help

Every Bay Area county provides additional resources for residents most impacted by the pandemic. Local programs work to complement the state rent relief assistance. You can click on each county below to find further information for your area.

Like this article? Make sure to sign up for our mailing list so you never miss a goddamn thing!
Previous post

Comfort Food, Art and Poetry Collide at Berkeley's Iconic Homemade Cafe

Next post

Sounds of September: The Best Live Music (and More) this Week

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.