United Way Bay Area, Wells Fargo create rental assistance fund

Off-campus apartments on the Southside of UC Berkeley.
Ethan Epstein/File
A rental relief fund created by Wells Fargo and United Way Bay Area will provide up to three months of rental assistance to struggling renters.

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Beginning with a donation from Wells Fargo, United Way Bay Area, or UWBA, created a rental relief fund to provide monetary assistance to struggling renters.

The money will be distributed through UWBA’s existing SparkPoint centers, which offer financial advising in locations including family resource centers, schools and community colleges. Anyone who cannot pay their rent will be eligible for up to three months of rental assistance, along with the commitment that they will participate in a financial coaching program such as SparkPoint.

“The inspiration was really about meeting a need that’s out there and doing this in a way that’s going to help a lot of people,” said Kelly Batson, chief community impact officer at UWBA.

Wells Fargo is a longtime supporter of UWBA, with its fundraising partnership going back almost 100 years to UWBA’s founding.

Along with the $750,000 grant from the San Francisco-based bank, UWBA plans to raise an additional $2.5 million for the fund through its existing network of funders.

“With the Bay Area rents being so high, people were really hurting during the pandemic in this specific area,” said Erica Trejo, community relations senior manager at Wells Fargo. “We have three different pillars that we really focus on as a bank … housing affordability, small business growth and financial health, so this was really up our alley.”

Both UWBA and Wells Fargo pointed out that housing affordability has been an issue in the Bay Area since long before the pandemic.

Batson said about one-third of Bay Area residents were already rent-burdened before COVID-19, meaning they were paying about 30% of their incomes on rent.

The economic downturn has only exacerbated this issue. According to Batson, about 1,100 clients have come into the SparkPoint centers struggling with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is something that we can make an impact on, and we can help a lot of families,” Batson said.

Built during the 2008 recession, UWBA’s SparkPoint coaching offers one-on-one education in the topics of credit, debt, income and savings.

UWBA and Wells Fargo both hope that the combined monetary assistance with financial literacy programs will provide help to renters who need it most.

“We really are specifically looking to reach those who are most vulnerably affected by the pandemic,” Trejo said. “Unfortunately, that tends to be our lowest-income populations who are diverse communities, so I just want to place emphasis on the importance of this grant for reaching those who are most in need.”

Contact Claire Daly at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @DalyClaire13.