Keeping people housed during COVID-19
Wells Fargo donated nearly $1.3 million for rental assistance relief and financial coaching for low-income renters in Los Angeles and San Francisco affected economically by COVID-19.
Wedding planner Angela Garcia had 20 weddings booked for 2020 when California’s shelter-in-place order began in March in response to COVID-19, but soon after, her clients began postponing their weddings. Her husband, Michael Garcia, also lost work as a personal trainer as gyms closed.
“We’re both in service industries and were shut down 100%,” Angela Garcia said. “We hit rock bottom in April and were struggling to figure it out. We thought, ‘How are we going to make rent?’”
At the time, they lived with their now 2-year-old daughter in a one-bedroom apartment in Fremont, California, near San Francisco, where it cost about $3,100 a month to pay for rent, utilities, and internet.
Even after receiving some help from their parents and deferring rental payments, they still needed help, so they applied for local relief fund. They weren’t selected, but learned they were eligible for and received rental assistance from United Way Bay Area.
To support families like the Garcias who have been affected economically by COVID-19, Wells Fargo donated nearly $1.3 million for rental assistance relief and financial coaching to United Way Bay Area in San Francisco and California Community Foundation in Los Angeles.
“The housing affordability team is focused on keeping people housed,” said Gregg Sherkin, Community Relations senior manager for Wells Fargo in Los Angeles. “We want to help people who may be suffering from a loss of income or hospitalization due to COVID-19. The average rent is beyond what a lot of low-income families are able to make already, so we’re trying to help them with a flexible rental assistance program.”
‘Tenants have a lot of anxiety right now’
In Los Angeles, California Community Foundation is working with its referral agencies like the Housing Rights Center to help up to 1,000 households, like Zully Duran’s. Duran lives with her husband and four sons in a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles where the rent is about $1,900 a month.
Duran lost her full-time job as a housekeeper, and her husband has been working extra hours to pay their bills. She said there have been days when she couldn’t sleep because she was so worried about basic necessities like food and paying rent.
“Tenants have a lot of anxiety right now. They are stuck at home, temporary moratorium laws change, and there is a lot of confusion." — Marlene Sanchez
“Tenants have a lot of anxiety right now,” said Marlene Sanchez, program manager for Housing Rights Center. “They are stuck at home, temporary moratorium laws change, and there is a lot of confusion. California Community Foundation and this program come in handy because candidates may not qualify for other local programs, due to where they live. Some individuals lost a family member who was the breadwinner, so they’re struggling or may not have social support to find employment or government benefits. This assistance, and participating with agencies, is beneficial because it helps us streamline those individuals.”
The Duran family found out about the rental assistance through a friend and received $4,500, covering their payments for October, November, and part of December, which Duran said has been a tremendous help.
Sanchez said Duran’s family might have faced eviction, and even homelessness, had it not been for the rental assistance. “They are living in the shadows and may not trust the system,” Sanchez said. “When I informed them they would receive rental assistance, you could sense their relief.”
‘We’re seeing a much greater need’
The investment of $750,000 to United Way Bay Area is helping to serve about 300 families, with a goal to raise $2.5 million and help approximately 1,500 more households.
“When COVID hit, we were already facing a homeless crisis in the Bay Area,” said Erica Trejo, Community Relations senior manager for Wells Fargo in San Francisco. “We knew it would be worse, and we wanted to be proactive. We wanted to have something Bay Area wide. These funds are being distributed in eight of the nine Bay Area counties.”
United Way Bay Area is working with its partner agencies to provide the rental assistance and one-on-one financial coaching for families to prepare a budget and manage expenses.
“We need housing that is affordable for people to stay in the Bay Area,” said Ena Yasuhara Li, vice president of Community Impact for United Way Bay Area. “The pandemic exacerbated everything, and we’re seeing a much greater need. This rental assistance allows us to meet clients’ basic needs, and it focuses on the long term with financial coaching.”
The Garcia family received $1,500 to help with their rent. When their lease was up in July, they moved into a house with Michael Garcia’s parents to save money and be closer to their parents. Over the last several months, Michael Garcia has provided online personal training, and Angela Garcia has planned microweddings, with 16 weddings booked for 2021.
They’re also saving more, with a goal to buy their own home, thanks to the financial coaching they’ve received.
“It’s a big help,” Michael Garcia said. “Coming from a family where money was not fully discussed, we haven’t had that knowledge to develop strong spending habits, and it’s been a good reminder. I feel like it’s put us back on the path to financial success. Moving in with my parents might seem like a setback, but we’re setting ourselves up for a comeback.”