Rent Relief

Here to Stay

Here to Stay
by Zeph Fishlyn for SFADC 2021

Are you behind on rent or utilities? There is help available.

Updated May 24, 2021

If you can’t pay rent because of income loss or increased expenses due to the pandemic, there are emergency laws in place to protect you from eviction. Read more about your rights here, or call a tenant rights group for more information.

Emergency Rental Assistance funds are currently available to help cover COVID rent debt and future rent payments. The information below applies to San Francisco tenants. Tenants in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties can find where to apply for rent help here. If you live elsewhere in the state, find where to apply here.

San Francisco tenants may be eligible for two different programs: one run by the state and one run by the city. The two programs both use Federal Emergency Rental Assistance funds, but have different guidelines for who they will prioritize helping and what help they will offer. Tenants are only eligible for a total of 15 months of help, and may choose either program or a combination of the two as long as they cover different months. Both programs are available to tenants regardless of immigration status.

  • If you need help paying rents due between April 2020 and March 2021, apply to the State’s emergency rental assistance program at The amount of help eligible tenants receive will depend on the participation of their landlord. See more information below.
  • If you need help with rents from April 2021 and forward, the City’s program can provide up to three months back rent plus three months forward rent at a time to eligible tenants who meet the city’s priority guidelines. See more information below or visit

Where can I get help understanding the application process?

Find a full list of local organizations available to help with the state’s application here, and the city’s application here. The following SFADC organizations can help answer questions and explain the process, and some can offer in-person help filling out the applications:

  • Bill Sorro Housing Program (BiSHoP): 415-513-5177, Languages: English, Spanish, Arabic. Can help with filling out applications.
  • Chinatown Community Development Center: 415-984-2749. Languages: Cantonese and Mandarin. Can help with filling out applications.
  • Causa Justa :: Just Cause: 415.487.9203. Languages: Spanish and English. Can answer questions but does not offer in-person application support.
  • Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco: English, Mandarin and Spanish at 415-703-8644, Russian and Cantonese at 415-947-9085. Can answer questions and offers workshops on the application process, but does not offer in-person application support.
  • La Voz Latina/ Catholic Charities: in-person help at 456 Ellis, call 415-983-3970 or email to schedule an appointment. Languages: English, Spanish. Can help with filling out applications.
  • Mission SRO Collaborative: English Line: 408-658-6389, Spanish line: 415-570-4329. Can answer questions but does not offer in-person application support.
  • SOMCAN: 415-552-5637, Languages: English, Filipino. Can offer help with filling out applications.

Frequently Asked Questions

You may be eligible if you are a San Francisco resident who has unpaid rent or utilities, AND has experienced financial hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic, AND has a household income that is at or below 80% of Area Median Income (AMI).

In addition to the above basic requirements for eligibility, both the state and local program then prioritize some applicants for help:

  • State Program: first priority is households at or below 50% of Area Median Income (AMI) or with nine or more months of unpaid rent. The next priority is applicants in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. All other applicants will be processed based on available remaining funding.
  • Local Program: applications are prioritized based upon risk of displacement or homelessness, with measures including past homelessness, extremely low income, family composition and other factors. Only those that meet the program’s vulnerability threshold are selected for financial assistance.
  • The amount of assistance under the State Program depends on how your landlord responds.   After you submit an application, the State will contact your landlord and ask them to agree to waive 20% of the unpaid rent from April 2020-March 2021.  If they agree, the State Program will pay your landlord the remaining 80% of unpaid rent and you will not owe anything from that period. If the landlord doesn’t agree, the State Program will pay you 25% of unpaid rent from that period. 
  • If you qualify the City Program will pay up to 3 months back rent owed and 3 months forward rent.  For example, if your application is approved in June 2021, then the City Program will provide rental assistance for April-June (back rent) and July-September (forward rent). 

Remember that even if you do not get enough help to pay off all of your rent debt, emergency eviction protections may still protect you.

Yes. The State Program covers rent owed from April 2020 through March 2021. The City Program covers April 2021 and forward. Since the programs focus on different time periods and have different priorities, it may be wise to do so.  If you do apply to both programs you cannot receive assistance for months for which you have already received assistance.

No.  You will not be asked about immigration status. Help from this program also does not qualify as a “public charge” that can affect those applying for a green card. Learn more about eligibility for various public programs based on immigration status here.

It is not necessary to have documents to prove income or expenses.  A tenant counselor can assist you with the appropriate forms.

The State Program requires subtenants to apply along with the master tenant on the same application.  The City Program works with subtenants even without the involvement of the master tenant.

You should apply separately to the City Program, but must apply together to the State Program as one household.

You can apply and be eligible for rental assistance regardless of whether your housing was built with permits.  The information you provide will not be used for other purposes.

You are only eligible for help from the State Program if you owe rent for the period between April 2020 and March 2021.  The City Program will help with future rent payments eligible applicants even if you do not owe back rent.


Currently, you are only eligible for help if you still live at the address where you owe rent. This could change in the future.

State Program: Either the landlord or the tenant may start the process.  But ultimately tenants will need to complete their own application. Tenants do not have to provide their personal information/documents to the landlord because they can provide it directly to the program.

City Program: Only tenants may apply. Landlords will be asked to provide a W9 or information like the amount of unpaid rent. If your landlord or master tenant won’t cooperate with the Program, you are still eligible for assistance.

We know these programs are not enough, and too often work to subsidize a system that was already broken. Tenants, organized labor and other organizations across the state are fighting to extend eviction protections and expand the existing rent relief programs.  In addition, new federal relief funds should arrive in the coming months.  For updates follow us on Facebook.