Pleasanton residents who have struggled to pay their rent during statewide COVID-19 lockdown restrictions will get some relief after the Pleasanton City Council unanimously increased funding for a city-run rental assistance program Tuesday.
A number of locals have experienced "significantly reduced" household incomes while the countywide shelter-in-place orders continue to be extended, according to city staff, rendering them unable to afford their rental payments and at risk of losing their homes or being displaced from the Pleasanton community.
"This is exactly the group that we want to support and it is also the kind of program that we want to support to keep people in their homes as they cope with COVID," Councilmember Karla Brown, who will be sworn in as Pleasanton's new mayor next month, said shortly before voting Tuesday night.
With a second month of rental assistance, staff said it will be easier for affected Pleasanton renters to stay current on their rent or pay a portion of their delinquent rent, decreasing the risk of eviction.
In addition to agreeing to a second month of rental assistance and doubling the maximum amount to $5,000 per eligible household, the council also committed an additional $200,000 from the lower income housing fund to the city's "Emergency Rental Assistance Program," if needed once the original funding and another $150,000 of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) pandemic funding has been exhausted.
As of Oct. 30, the city's program has a remaining balance of $151,632 from the original $500,000 approved budget.
Established this summer with the objective of "mitigating potential homelessness and displacement of existing Pleasanton residents who are experiencing a decrease in household income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus, unable to pay their rent," the rental help program is administered by local nonprofit CityServe of the Tri-Valley.
Since then, the program has provided $298,367 in rental assistance to 151 eligible tenants unable to pay rent due to a COVID-19-related loss of income. The program pays for delinquent rent only and payment is made directly to the landlords.
Councilmember Julie Testa asked what kinds of households are applying for the program, and whether applicants include entry-level workers and "single people who are struggling."
"It really does span pretty much the whole spectrum," assistant city manager Brian Dolan replied.
One-person households are the smallest group with 22 applicants; the biggest group includes 36 two-person households. Three-, four- and five-person households had 98 applicants combined.
Testa added she was "very grateful that we do have the ability to help support this need" and appreciated the city Housing Commission's "desire to find resources" in the event that a third round of funding is needed.
City attorney Dan Sodergren confirmed the last extension for the countywide moratorium on evictions "now expires 60 days after the expiration of the local emergency of Dec. 31, 2020 -- whichever is later -- so it will at least be going on during the time of the local emergency."
The other council members roundly supported the program as well; Vice Mayor Kathy Narum said she was "glad to see" the program continue because "clearly there's a great need."
Councilmember Jerry Pentin said, "It's great that we have the opportunity here in Pleasanton to do this for our renters. And hopefully we'll get through this and won't need more than we're allocating tonight, and if so, I'm sure we'll find a way."
Brown added, "I appreciate the federal government continuing to provide the CBDG funds, and that we can use those in addition to the funds that were still not used. I'm a little interested that we still have $151,000 in the remaining balance, but I'm really glad we do so that we can continue for those that need this program, and then the addition of $200,000 from our lower income housing fund will truly be able to support residents that earn that 80% (area median income -- AMI) or lower."
No changes were made to the program's criteria eligibility.
Qualified applicants must be current residents of Pleasanton with a valid residential lease with a third-party landlord for at least six continuous months, be in good standing with payment and terms of their lease prior to the countywide shelter in place order issued March 16 -- as verified by the landlords -- and have a household income not exceeding 80% AMI established for Alameda County (adjusted for household size) prior to March 16.
Participants must also show documentation of loss of income of "at least 20% due to COVID-19 as a result of employment and/or school/childcare closures and/or inability to work due to COVID-19 illness or caring for a family member infected by the disease."
Assistance is available for up to $5,000 per household, or double the previous $2,500 maximum. Applicants residing in three-bedroom units will only receive the maximum $5,000 assistance.
Funding awarded will "represent the lesser of the tenant's actual rent for two months or the applicable two-month maximum affordability rent for households at 80% AMI, adjusted for unit size (i.e. number of bedrooms)."
In other business
* Pleasanton's fiscal forecast looks clear after the council allocated more than $3.5 million from this year's budget surplus to the city's "Rainy Day Fund" on Tuesday, boosting it from $5 million to $8.5 million.
The funds "will be available to help balance the fiscal year 2020-21 budget in the event revenues are less than estimated," staff said in a report on the city's year-end operating budget.
Overall, cash inflow exceeded outflow by about $4.3 million this year, putting the city in a financially stable position.
The adopted general fund reserves will also give the city about $30.6 million in combined year-end general fund reserves -- about 27% of this year's actual general fund operating expenditures. The city aims to have general fund reserves equalling at least 20% of operating costs, with a target of 25%.
Most of the council members shared their satisfaction after hearing the staff report; Narum credited staff for "managing our expenses in combination with the increasing revenues" and said it "really makes our jobs quite easy."
"Every time we go through these year-end recaps, it is always amazing how financially strong the city is. And I really think some of that credit goes to our staff," Narum said.
Pentin called it "a good thing to be a council member in Pleasanton with these kinds of reports."
"Staff has been conservative over the years and there's a good reason for it, and the result is what we see tonight," Pentin added.
Brown urged her colleagues to be mindful about the future, however: "Although we've been very fiscally careful … we also are in a situation where the city's in belt-tightening mode as well, so we do have a loss of revenues compared to last year, and those are numbers we need to be aware of,"
The city's development services fee revenues decreased by $201,339 -- or approximately 5% -- due to fewer building permits being issued during sheltering orders. Transient occupancy taxes also decreased by $408,701 (around 8%) as a result of hotels remaining closed for most types of uses through spring and summer.
The council also earmarked $800,000 from the general fund surplus for the purpose of forming a mental health crisis response program with licensed clinicians.
Aiming to "reduce the number of people detained for mental health evaluations," the program would use "specialized resources to respond to those in acute mental health crisis that is not currently available today," staff said in a report.
Trained and licensed clinicians would respond to mental health crisis situations and "help evaluate the severity of crisis, refer the person in need to other services, or arrange for transport to a care facility for further evaluation."
"The current response model requires dispatching a police officer to all mental health-related calls without the benefit of a trained and licensed clinician," staff said.
The $800,000 will be allocated to a specific expenditure account in next year's mid-year budget.