Faced with a prolonged pandemic wreaking havoc on the local economy, the Mountain View City Council agreed Tuesday to pour more money into renter relief and small business loans.
The unanimous decision is the latest round of cash to be pumped into the city's COVID-19 relief effort, and is a direct result of $1 million in CARES Act funding awarded to the city. Of the money, $500,000 was immediately routed to Community Services Agency (CSA) to help families who are struggling to stay housed while out of work.
The council also earmarked another $250,000 for zero-interest loans to small businesses struggling to survive since the pandemic began earlier this year, though it's unclear how popular the program will be. Some council members argued the city needs to shift gears and start providing outright grants if it wants to see small businesses survive.
To date, a bulk of the city's COVID-19 support has come in the form of renter relief, burning through millions of dollars since March to help renters who are at risk of losing their home because they are out of work as a result of the pandemic. County officials and nonprofit leaders have referred to the problem as an eviction time bomb waiting to go off, as tens of thousands of tenants fall behind on rental payments.
Though data is sparse on whether a time bomb is coming here in Mountain View, the city has spent big to avoid the problem. Before Tuesday, the City had poured $2.6 million into the renter relief program, which has helped 963 households with at least one month of rent. Checks are made directly to landlords, and average $2,000.
With $700,000 left in the program and 403 still-pending applications, it's expected that CSA will burn through the rest of the cash soon. To that end, council members devoted $500,000 of the CARES Act money for CSA to use as they see fit, which will likely be funneled into rent relief and other emergency financial assistance programs.
Alongside renter relief, the city has run a small business loan program that has provided 71 businesses with $7,000 zero-percent interest loans, to be paid back in three years. On Monday, the program relaunched with $277,000 left in the fund, with the maximum loan amount doubled at $15,000.
Council members agreed to fund the small business loan program with $250,000 from the CARES Act money, but not without some hesitation. Councilman Lucas Ramirez said the county could very well launch its own, much larger $100 million small business relief program in the coming weeks, raising concerns that the city would be funding a duplicate and unneeded service to small businesses. He said the city should be ready to revert that money to other needs if that comes to pass.
Council members Lisa Matichak and John McAlister said they would prefer a small business grant program. McAlister, a business owner, said he too is going through the struggles of COVID-19, and that many may be reluctant to go deeper into debt when there's no guarantee they'll be able to pay it back.
"I think the grant program is actually the best way because you give immediate help for people," McAlister said. "It's immediate, it takes care of some concerns and hopefully it can get you through the next month or two months."
McAlister also raised concerns that the automatic minimum wage increases will put even more pressure on businesses, and that the city might want to reconsider that as well.
"When you see small businesses going out, that is going to be part of the reason they're going out," McAlister said. "The wages are going up and the income is not coming in."