In just a few short weeks, California's robust eviction protections to prevent displacement during the COVID-19 pandemic are set to expire. But many cities say it's still too early to pull up the safety net, and are looking to enact their own local protections in lieu of state action.
The Mountain View City Council agreed Tuesday night to pursue an eviction moratorium that would prevent landlords from ousting tenants for being behind on rent due to COVID-19. The temporary law would likely mirror state-level protections under SB 91, which sunsets on June 30. Nonprofit leaders have long warned of an explosive increase in evictions if the moratorium ends prematurely, and have loudly called for an extension.
Earlier on Tuesday, Santa Clara County's Board of Supervisors made a similar vote to consider an eviction moratorium that goes beyond June.
The real problem right now is not so much cash but the time to distribute it, said Tom Myers, executive director of Community Services Agency (CSA) in Mountain View. He said the nonprofit has a well-funded rent relief program, but that it takes time to cut checks to needy tenants who have lost work or racked up medical costs due to the pandemic. By his estimate, anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 households served by CSA are at risk of eviction if the moratorium expires this month.
The impact would be felt by all walks of life, including single residents, families with children and seniors across all demographic groups, Myers said, and it could be avoided if the city makes one last extension to the eviction moratorium.
"The economic fallout from the pandemic has lasted far too long, and I believe no matter how much money the city puts out into the community, what is lacking is time," Myers said.
The city isn't the only agency looking to help tenants behind on rent, with similar relief programs rolling out at the state and county level. But many of these resources have only just started to distribute funds, again making it a time crunch to help as many people as possible prior to the end of this month.
Resident Phil Cosby urged council members at the June 8 meeting to enact a citywide eviction moratorium that would immediately follow the expiration of state protections at the end of this month and last until at least the end of August. He said that many people are still out of work and unable to keep up with housing costs.
"While our businesses are opening, jobs and hours available in the service sector are nowhere near the pre-pandemic level and the level needed for people to actually pay full rent," he said.
Councilman Lucas Ramirez said the eviction moratorium will have to expire at some point, and probably soon, but that he was struck by the number of households in the city that would be jeopardized if the protections expired too soon. The city has committed several million dollars toward COVID-19 relief for residents, including direct checks to landlords to pay off unpaid rent, but some of those programs are just now getting off the ground.
"We need time to transfer (funding) to the agencies that we're partnering with, and then additional time still to make sure that those agencies are able to get the money in the hands of the households who will need it most," Ramirez said.
Since the pandemic began in March last year, there have been numerous state, county and city-level laws preventing evictions due to nonpayment of rent, often with short-term expiration dates and sometimes contradictory rules. On multiple occasions, California Gov. Gavin Newsom's office had been opaque about whether the state-level moratorium would continue until just days before expiration, leaving city and county officials scrambling to craft local ordinances in the event that the protections lapse.
That same dynamic is playing out now. The state has made no indication that the moratorium would continue after SB 91 expires on June 30, prompting Mountain View and Santa Clara County to hastily research ways to legally extend the eviction protections. Mountain View City Attorney Krishan Chopra said he's been in touch with county counsel, who are still trying to determine whether the county ordinance would apply to cities or just unincorporated areas of the county.
From the outset, Chopra said it makes sense to model the city's ordinance after SB 91 to avoid confusion over new rules, and that it could be written to expire in the coming months or at the end of the city's COVID-19 emergency declaration. The only caveat is that the ordinance would come back to the council for approval on June 22, and that any city action could be preempted by county or state action between then and the end of the month.
"We have a history of the state waiting to the last minute sometimes," Chopra said. "We would draft safety language that the city ordinance wouldn't take effect or would expire if the state or county adopted intervening regulations which cover the city."
At the same meeting, council members agreed to pump another $2 million into financial assistance for people facing economic hardship due to COVID-19, including $1 million for CSA and $1 million for a newly formed group called the Mountain View Solidarity Fund. By extending the moratorium, both nonprofits would have more time to distribute the money before tenants are faced with the decision to pay full rent or leave their home.