California’s extended moratorium on evictions is helpful, but advocates say the short-term, temporary fix is not enough to keep people off the streets and out of homelessness.
The California Judicial Council’s Legal moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent, implemented in early April was scheduled to expire on Sept. 1.
An executive order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom late June was set to expire on Sept. 2, but was extended to Sept. 30 to minimize evictions to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in vulnerable populations by allowing those most vulnerable to the disease to self-quarantine, self-isolate, or otherwise remain in their homes to reduce transmission, he explained.
“If people are evicted from residential units, where are they going to go? This is a dangerous time to be out on the street, and to me it’s a dangerous time to try to get new tenants. You’re exposing yourself to people. I think it’s better and just to keep people where they are,” stated human rights Attorney James Simmons.
He told The Final Call there are a lot of programs for landlords that need relief due to lack of income and various arrangements can be made. “I think it’s a bad risk for landlords to evict. In any case, and I know, if people don’t pay rent, get them out! But if you follow that business model, I think it would actually cause misery for those landlords, because who are they going to replace them with,” Atty. Simmons stated.
Aid could come via Assembly Bill 1436, which would enact the Covid-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020, and stop evictions for tenants impacted by Covid-19 through April 2021. Sponsored by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Aug. 18. It must pass the Senate Appropriations Committee and the full State Legislature.
The bill would prohibit renters from being evicted for non-payment of rent by giving them an additional 12 months from the Covid period before a landlord can seek a civil action to collect rent owed, but those civil remedies would not include eviction, according to Assemblymember Chiu’s press announcement.
“That’s like living a year with a gun to your head, if you haven’t paid rent for the last three months because you don’t have a job,” said Adam Rice, human rights organizer with LA-CAN (Los Angeles Community Action Network), based downtown L.A. near the massive Skid Row homeless community.
The bill encourages agreements between renters and landlords so that legal, civil action is unnecessary. “During the Covid period and the subsequent year, renters are allowed to pay back their landlords if they are able to in order to resolve the situation early,” it said. It also mandates that renters keep up with their current monthly rent after Covid ends, or face eviction if they do not. Any government subsidies received by landlords from a rental assistance program would be deducted from rent owed.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 129,972 people are homeless across the country on a given night.
“Well before the Covid-19 pandemic, Los Angeles was a hotspot of growing homelessness and severe housing insecurity for renter households. A stark manifestation of race and class inequality, this crisis is now set to get much worse,” declares a recent study by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.
According to “UD Day: Impending Evictions and Homelessness in Los Angeles,” authored by Gary Blasi, professor emeritus at UCLA Law, a surge in evictions and homelessness will follow the lifting of Covid-19 emergency orders.
That devastation could have been avoided, through robust tenant protections, rent relief, and eviction moratoria at local, state, and federal levels of government, argued the report.
The study focused on the precarious or uncertain state of housing for workers in Los Angeles County who are unemployed and have no replacement income. It found among other that approximately 599,000 workers who lost their jobs early May and have no unemployment insurance or other income replacement.
Approximately 449,000 of them live in about 365,000 units of rental housing and have long been bearing the second heaviest rent burdens of all the urban areas in the United States. In addition, those facing eviction will be heavily concentrated in communities and neighborhoods with larger percentages of low-income people of color.
“There is no evidence that state or local leaders have begun to plan for what now appears to be an inevitable intensification of what was already a humanitarian crisis. Without intelligent planning and immediate action, Los Angeles faces the prospect of many thousands of people, including families with children, joining the thousands already on the streets or living in their vehicles,” wrote Prof. Blasi.
Between January 2018 and January 2019, the number of unhoused people in Los Angeles County grew by almost 6,200 people—an annual increase of 12 percent, indicates the report.
“In 2019, however, the homeless count showed high rates of first-time homelessness, 23 percent in 2018 and 40 percent before 2018, with 53 percent of people experiencing first-time homelessness citing economic hardship as a leading factor,” it continued.
“The report recommends opening vacant hotel rooms or many of these hotels that have gone out of business because they have haven’t been able to open up,” said Mr. Rice. In addition, it calls for reducing the number of evictions filed, expanding rapid rehousing for those evicted, and give tenants a chance to defend themselves while staying in their homes.
The city of Los Angeles allocated $103 million in a rent relief program to help tenants and landlords affected by the health pandemic. But that went fast, but not far, Mr. Rice and other activists argued.
Los Angeles anticipated assisting some 50,000 households with a grant of up to $1,000 per month and a maximum of $2,000 per household.
The money will be paid directly to landlords on tenants’ behalf. The five-day application period ended mid-July.
“Step one, don’t panic,” said Mr. Rice. “Step two, don’t move. Call us—213-228-0024, if you get a notice, if your landlord is harassing you … Step three, organize,” said Mr. Rice.