Filiberto Zaragoza, a 19-year-old student at Foothill College, has had his hands full over the past few months working to keep his community housed.
As a Core Member of Youth United for Community Action, or YUCA, in East Palo Alto, he's knocked on doors, met with renters, and helped to run clinics to support households behind on rent apply for rent relief and make themselves eligible for protection from eviction before October. Zaragoza said that clinics were held outside of St. Francis Church in East Palo Alto and near the Woodland Park apartments.
And those efforts paid off: As of Sept. 30, the group had helped about 150 households to apply for rent relief and contacted about 2,800 households, he said.
California's statewide ban on evictions ended Oct. 1. In California, renter households are shielded from eviction if they have paid 25% of their rent between Sept. 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021, according to CalMatters.
They also cannot be evicted over any rent owed between March 1 and Aug. 31, 2020, so long as they respond to their eviction notice with a signed declaration saying they experienced financial distress related to COVID-19.
The full rent that accrued between March 2020 and September 2021, however, is still due.
Surgo Ventures, a nonprofit global and public health "action tank" analyzed recent U.S. Census Bureau data and came up with estimates evaluating rent arrears owed by households in each county. According to their report, in San Mateo County, about 12% of households, or almost 13,000 households, in the county owed a total of $98.3 million in rent, or an average of $7,633 per household behind on rent.
In Santa Clara County, the study estimated that about 13%, or 36,000 households countywide, were behind on rent and owed a total of $256.2 million, or about $7,227 per household.
People are eligible for rent relief if they have been financially impacted by the pandemic and earn below 80% of the area median income, according to CalMatters. In San Mateo County, that threshold is set at $102,450 for a single-person household or $146,350 for a four-person household. In Santa Clara County, it's $82,450 for a single-person household or $117,750 for a four-person household.
"As soon as we heard about all the stuff we can do as youth -- outreach, clinics, helping organize everything, we were on board right away," Zaragoza said. "We saw how serious eviction really is and we wanted to take advantage of this moment and really help out our community."
Youth have a say in everything at YUCA, Zaragoza said, describing the process by which youth join the organization and then, as they rise in the leadership ranks, become eligible for both more responsibility and pay in their community advocacy work.
In his conversations with residents, he said, a lot of people didn't know that there was help out there for them, or that they could fill out an application so they wouldn't be evicted from their homes.
"Making that known to so many families was very necessary, especially for people who don't speak English," he said.
One challenge that many households faced with the application was that it asked details about how much each household was able to pay each month and by how much each household fell short -- numbers that weren't easy to track down for some families.
When this publication spoke with Zaragoza on Sept. 30, he noted that after that day, people will still be able to apply for rent relief, but they will not necessarily be eligible for protection from eviction.
"It's great that East Palo Alto residents are able to take advantage of this moment and this application," he said. "Because of COVID, things have been really tough. A lot of people have been struggling. The last thing we want is to see another family move out of East Palo Alto or be kicked out of East Palo Alto. We believe housing is a human right and always will be."