A statewide eviction moratorium aimed at helping families stay housed during the COVID-19 pandemic ends next week, opening the door for landlords to once again evict tenants who fall behind on rent. And while millions of dollars have poured into rent relief efforts in Mountain View, many households could still be at risk of displacement.
The moratorium, built into AB 832, prevents landlords from evicting tenants due to nonpayment of rent through Sept. 30 of this year. The state law was meant to be the final extension of the moratorium during COVID-19, with hopes that it would buy enough time for renters in arrears to tap into rent relief funds.
Tenants who have fallen behind on rent -- either because of lost work or medical expenses due to COVID-19 -- have been shielded from evictions since March 2020 through either state or local emergency measures. But those protections will finally end on Oct. 1, and AB 832 prevents Santa Clara County or Mountain View from passing their own extension.
The looming deadline has nonprofit leaders and tenant advocacy groups worried. Tom Myers, executive director at Community Services Agency, said the nonprofit estimates around 1,200 households in Mountain View may be at risk of eviction once the state-level protections expire, and that most of those people are from low-income families.
"It keeps us all up at night -- that's a huge number of people," Myers said. "We need socio-economic diversity and we should be proud of that, and to know that we have 1,200 families who are potentially facing evictions on Oct. 1 is heartbreaking."
Mountain View has performed well, at least relative to other cities, in providing rent relief to its residents during the pandemic. CSA has spent $5 million cutting checks to tenants behind on rent, of which the city pitched in $2.6 million. Myers said the money has been flexible enough to reach families in situations that other rent relief programs don't reach, including those with subleases, those without written agreements and those renting RVs. As of this week, CSA has assisted 1,730 families.
California rolled out its own $5.2 billion rent relief program in June this year, and after a slow start has finally started paying households that have applied. So far it has paid out nearly $585 million of the $2.6 billion requested, according to the state's tracking website.
The state has received 310 applications from Mountain View residents requesting about $4 million, of which $1.8 million has been paid to date. More than 84% of the families who have applied through the state's program are considered very low or extremely low-income households, and families identifying as Hispanic or Latino are more than twice as likely to apply for rent relief funds in the city, according to state data.
State assistance per household has averaged $12,227, suggesting most families are far behind on multiple months of rental payments. Adjusting for population, Mountain View has received far more state rental assistance than the neighboring cities of Palo Alto, Los Altos and Sunnyvale.
State and local public health restrictions that caused massive job losses during COVID-19 have largely expired and employment rates have bounced back, but that doesn't mean families are out of the woods yet, Myers said. Many are struggling to find a job that can help sustain a household that has gone without employment for months and has been forced to accumulate debt and living expenses. The vast majority of those in this situation are among the lowest-income earners in the city, he said.
"These are the people who are being hardest hit by COVID," Myers said. "The service workers and others who were just at the mercy of being able to work or not. This disease has ravaged our community."
In anticipation of the moratorium expiring, the city has set up a legal defense fund for those facing eviction, with $45,000 in legal assistance set aside for tenants involved in unlawful detainer cases. The city's rental housing staff noted that as many as 95% of tenants are unrepresented by legal counsel in eviction cases, and that many are going straight to default judgments.
Those facing eviction next month still have a legal defense if they declare they were unable to pay full rent due to COVID-19 and they paid at least 25% of their back rent by Sept. 30.
For tenants who fall short on rent due on Oct. 1 and beyond, the rules are a little different. Courts will only be allowed to move forward with eviction proceedings if landlords can prove they applied for the state's rental assistance and were denied or the tenant failed to cooperate with the application. These protections do not extend to those whose lease began after Sept. 30.
Meanwhile, there is pressure at the state level to process applications faster and get more rent relief disbursed before evictions start next month. A report by the California State Auditor last week flagged that the state needs to speed things up, and could very well lose federal funding if it doesn't pick up the pace. As much as $337 million could end up being reverted back to the U.S. Treasury, the report found.
Despite the slow rollout of California's rent relief program, state lawmakers declined to extend the moratorium through the end of the legislative session this month, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has not publicly stated an interest in an extension.