Gov. Gavin Newsom answers questions from the media after a rally where he signed the California Comeback Plan relief bill at the Barrio Action Youth and Family Center, on July 13, 2021. Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

(CALMATTERS) – Did you know that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget includes a $5.2 billion California rent relief program?

Newsom wants to make sure that you do.

In Bell Gardens on Wednesday, the governor met with local leaders and beneficiaries of the program to spotlight — and maybe win a little praise for — state efforts to shield tenants from eviction and help them pay their back rent. 

As we’ve seen repeatedly this year, this latest whistle stop for the governor was part policy announcement, part laudatory recall campaign event

“I didn’t think it was true. It’s true. You guys have to apply. They’re going to help you.”

Carmen Nares, a program beneficiary from South Gate

California has been trying to get eligible tenants to apply for its federally-funded rent relief programs for months — with limited success. Standing in the way: A lack of technological know-how, language barriers, a confusing application process and simple disbelief. Latino Californians have been particularly underrepresented among the list of applicants.

Timing is of the essence. Veronica Harms, a spokesperson for the state’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, said so far the state has spent a little more than $150 million, “a dramatic increase in participation” over just a few weeks ago, after the state simplified the application.

But that’s still less than 3% of the total funds available. The odds of another eviction moratorium extension past Sept. 30 are “very modest,” said Newsom.

What happens after that?  

San Francisco Democratic Assemblymember David Chiu raised that very concern on the most recent episode of CalMatters’ housing podcast Gimme Shelter

“I anticipate that after September 30 we will see a significant increase in the number of evictions. Now, hopefully, by that time a lot of folks have gotten money so that they’re no longer in rental debt. But we just don’t know.