For the third time in less than a year, cities and counties across California are passing a flurry of emergency protections this week to prevent landlords from evicting tenants behind on rent due to COVID-19.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to bring back its eviction moratorium, which prevents residential tenants from being kicked out for failing to pay rent -- provided they can prove a loss of income due to the pandemic. The vote comes just days before a similar statewide moratorium is set to expire with no immediate replacement in sight.
Several cities are following suit. The Mountain View City Council approved its own moratorium Tuesday evening, citing a need for a stopgap measure until Gov. Gavin Newsom or the state Legislature are able to pass an extension to the statewide protections. California's moratorium is set to expire on Sunday.
Since March 2020, California has suffered a massive spike in unemployment and lost work hours due to COVID-19 and the prolonged shutdown. Advocates warn that an eviction moratorium is still necessary to avoid an eviction time bomb as workers -- many of them low-income -- try to catch up on unpaid rent.
Many of these families are still struggling to pay the bills 10 months into the pandemic, said Jennifer Loving, CEO of Destination: Home. In a letter to county supervisors, Loving said extremely low-income residents served by her organization have seen their income drop by more than 60% during COVID-19, and are currently earning an average of $1,000 each month. These families are "completely unable" to pay current rent, let alone the average $5,000 in back rent owed.
"We must take local action to ensure that tens of thousands of struggling residents remain safely housed come Feb. 1," Loving wrote.
Also advocating for an extension is Tom Myers, executive director of Community Services Agency (CSA) in Mountain View. He wrote in a letter last week that the pandemic has been relentless and more rampant than ever, and that hospitality and service sector jobs have yet to rebound. To let the moratorium expire would mean a spike in displacement and homelessness at "the worst possible time."
"Our clients, who are struggling to keep food on the table and a roof overhead, are growing in number, and they are hurting," Myers said. "A wave of post-moratorium evictions would further imperil them, their families, and our entire community."
Protections against residential evictions have been a web of confusing and conflicting rules between different cities, counties and the state, made worse by premature expiration dates that anticipated a much shorter COVID-19 recovery. Newsom signed his original executive order granting cities and counties greater authority to pass eviction bans on March 16 last year, but it was set to expire on May 31. Newsom waited until May 29 before extending the order through July 28, leaving local officials rushing to pass a stopgap measure if the governor failed to act.
Newsom extended his executive order a third time on June 30 to last through Sept. 30 of last year.
State officials cleared the confusion in August when Newsom signed AB 3088, an eviction moratorium that lasted through Jan. 31 and superseded city and county ordinances. It also outlined clear rules for repayment of rent, requiring tenants to pay a portion of back rent by the end of January or potentially face an eviction.
Trouble is, AB 3088 is set to expire in less than a week, and there has yet to be a guaranteed successor to the law. Legislators have proposed two bills -- AB 15 and SB 3 -- that would effectively extend the moratorium through the end of 2021, but neither has been brought to the floor for a vote. AB 15 is currently set to be reviewed by the state's Housing and Community Development Committee.
Meanwhile, Newsom and legislative leaders announced Monday a plan to extend the moratorium through June 30, and provide up to $2.6 billion in federal aid for rent relief. Under the proposed agreement, landlords would be paid up to 80% of unpaid rent between April 2020 and March 2021 if the remaining balance is forgiven. It's unclear whether this plan, included in SB 91 will prevent the moratorium from lapsing on Feb. 1.
Santa Clara County supervisors approved its own moratorium, which will take effect after Jan. 31 in the event that the state fails to pass an extension to AB 3088.
The Santa Clara County Association of Realtors is not formally opposing the moratorium approved by supervisors Tuesday, but raised concerns that the regional ordinance could bring back the same mishmash of different eviction moratorium rules from one city to the next. In a letter to county supervisors, the organization encouraged the board to treat its ordinance as a temporary fix while the state passes updated legislation.
The letter points to a survey of 100 landlords in Santa Clara County that found over 50% have not received full rent during the pandemic, and that many are struggling financially and considering selling their property.
"As mortgage forbearance nears an end, ballooned back payments are nearing a foreclosure cliff," said Doug Goss, president of the association. "This will result in countless unintended evictions of vulnerable tenants and depletion of much needed naturally affordable housing in the County of Santa Clara."
Relief may be in sight. Along with the $2.6 billion rent relief program proposed by Newsom earlier this week, new legislation proposed by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) calls for creating a statewide rent relief program that would provide grants to tenants, small landlords and affordable housing providers.