In SF, Send a Text, Learn How to Avoid Eviction

Someone's hand is shown holding a phone with text messages on the screen. San Francisco residents who text “Rent” to 1-888-732-3215 will receive information about the statewide eviction moratorium, as well as referrals to groups that help people request financial aid to repay rent and utility debt.

Laura Wenus/San Francisco Public Press

San Francisco residents who text “Rent” to 1-888-732-3215 will receive information about the statewide eviction moratorium, as well as referrals to groups that help people request financial aid to repay rent and utility debt.

San Francisco residents can now learn how to avoid eviction by sending a text message to a special phone number.

That service is part of an outreach campaign launched Friday by the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition, a group of tenant-rights organizations. The goal: to teach people their rights and help them apply for rent assistance during the two months left before a statewide moratorium on evictions for unpaid rents expires. The coalition will also use the text messages to find out where people in need are concentrated in the city, which could help them better target future outreach.

“The urgency now is how do we get a lot of households that are still not in the rent-relief programs to be in them?” said Aitran Doan, manager of the outreach campaign. “We know there is a huge gap.”

An estimated 26,700 households are behind on rent in San Francisco, according to research and advocacy group PolicyLink. But only about a third ­— ­8,800 households — have applied for rent assistance, according to government figures.

People can begin receiving information about rent relief and the eviction moratorium by texting “Rent” to 888-732-3215.

A user who enters their ZIP code will also receive the name and phone number of their nearest tenant-rights group, which can provide more personalized help. That might include instructions on how to apply for financial assistance.

“It is casting a broad net across the city,” Doan said. “If there are places that need additional support, we will know that very soon.”

The platform could also be a tool for reminding participants about relevant deadlines or conducting polls. It is available in English, with plans to soon add Spanish, Chinese, Filipino and Arabic, Doan said.

The coalition is coordinating with the San Francisco Unified School District and local labor groups to disseminate information as widely as possible.

State and local governments are running parallel rent-relief programs. San Francisco tenants should apply through the state’s program if they owe money for rent or utilities that were due from April 2020 through March 2021; they should apply through the city’s program for debts in later months.

By Oct. 1, tenants must pay 25% of the total rent they owed during the 12 preceding months or they can be evicted. They can also be evicted for rent due that month.

After the moratorium’s end, tenants will still be protected from eviction for nonpayment until April 1, 2022, if they have applied for rent or utility assistance and are awaiting a decision — though that protection would disappear if the programs run out of money.

This additional protection is a major reason why the coalition is trying to expand the number of applicants, Doan said.

“We really don’t want to see massive evictions, or people leaving prematurely before an eviction notice is even given,” she said.

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