Steve Ortiz | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Armed with a check for $352,965 from the City of Santa Barbara, the United Way of Santa Barbara launched a new assistance program Monday, targeting renters within Santa Barbara City limits having trouble paying their landlords because of the COVID crisis. Upon verification, United Way will pay up to three months’ rent to city residents making 80 percent or less of the area median income.

The federal government’s emergency unemployment program that paid displaced workers $600 a month expired last Friday. “We expect a pretty severe uptick in cases,” said Steven Ortiz, United Way CEO. This augments another United Way program — formed in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Foundation, the Hutton Parker Foundation, and the Family Services Agency — known as the Joint Response Effort. It offers up to $1,000 in one-time funds to cover rental, medical, and other household expenses countywide. That program has already dispensed over $1.4 million to 1,872 individuals since March. “We went from a couple of dozen a day to over 100,” Ortiz said. For more information, visit

Though California law and court rulings prevent tenants from being evicted through 2020 because of the pandemic, landlords are forced to absorb losses when tenants cannot pay. With few exceptions, banks have not offered landlords any mortgage forgiveness, which has resulted, according to some local landlords, in forcing smaller mom-and-pop operators to sell their properties while they still can, often to larger, less personal institutional property management companies.

The local apartment owners association has pushed for federal legislation requiring banks to add unpaid mortgage payments to the back end of loans. While such language is included in the bailout bill now pushed by Congressional Democrats — the so-called HEROES Act — it is notably not in the stimulus bill promoted by Senate Republicans.

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