City Council Contemplating Using Federal Stimulus to Assist Local Businesses Impacted by the Pandemic
The Santa Monica City Council spent more than three hours at its Monday night meeting discussing an extension of the Rent Deferment Program that covers commercial tenants in city-owned properties who have been financially impacted by pandemic.
After pleas for rent relief from tenants in Bergamot Station, the Santa Monica Pier and the Santa Monica Airport, the Council decided to extend the Commercial Eviction Moratorium for tenants in city-owned properties for another three months, in essence keeping the status quo until June.
The Rent Deferment Program, which expires March 31, provides eviction protection and allows 50-100% of monthly rent deferment for qualifying tenant due to COVID hardship. It also calls for rent repayment period to start Sept. 30, 2021. City officials said 60 tenants have applied to this program.
More than two dozen tenants from city-owned properties addressed the Council Monday night, asking for rent forgiveness for the first 4 months of COVID-mandated closures and a 50% discount for the remainder of 2021.
They maintained that their business is down more than 40 percent and are struggling to pay their bills. While others – like the Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica Airport – explained they have not been able to open yet due to Stay-at-Home orders and indoor occupancy requirements.
Some Councilmembers mentioned that the city could use a portion of its $29.3 federal stimulus for rent abatement for tenants of city-owned properties and ease their financial burdens.
"The reality is the city will bring in less," said Councilman Kevin McKeown.
But city staff remained them that city has deferred $5.3 million in rent in the past year and "deal making is premature at this time."
In the end, the Council voted to approve the rent repayment from September 30, 2021 to Oct. 1, 2022 and suspend any increases for the next year.
Councilmembers also directed staff to come back with report in June about redirecting at least 20% of the federal stimulus to the recovery of small businesses in Santa Monica, especially in city-owned properties.
"Many of the City's small business tenants have expressed the need for financial support beyond the deferrals currently offered through the deferment program," said city staff in a report. "While the Federally funded CARES Act created programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and Emergency Economic Injury Grants (EIDL Grants) to help struggling businesses, many tenants shared they did not qualify for the assistance or did not apply to avoid incurring additional debt obligations."