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Coronavirus makes Calif.’s housing crisis that much scarier for families like mine

Center for Health Journalism - As virtually everyone in the nation endures some form of sheltering-at-home, many homeless people and those without secure housing do not have a place to keep safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of California has been facing a housing crisis for many years. When we have a pandemic, the housing shortage becomes a public health crisis.

I am a mother of two daughters who for the past 18 months has been sleeping on spare beds, couches, or sometimes on the bare floor. Until recently, my family would go from house to house, often using public transportation, toting just our clothing in bags. This instability has led to a lot of anxiety and depression for my two daughters and me. For my daughters, it has undermined their ability to concentrate and learn. 

Three years ago, I was living in Boyle Heights, paying $1,200 for a two-bedroom apartment. I left the country for two years to visit friends in South America and lived in a rural area away from the city. When I returned to Los Angeles, rents at the places I was looking at had doubled. I was unable to afford to live on my own. My daughters, 10 and 8, were forced to live with friends and family. We made do in crowded spaces, sometimes on a spare bed, other times on the floor or on couches. We lived out of clothing from bags that we moved around with us. It made it really hard to provide the kind of stability we know children need to thrive.

CITIES ROLL OUT RENT ASSISTANCE. ADVOCATES DEMAND BIGGER AND BOLDER HELP.

From Boston to San Jose, new initiatives help thousands of renters face COVID-19. But low funding, poor tenants’ protections, and overwhelmed systems have housing advocates worried the programs are falling short.

THE APPEAL - On April 1, Mayra Molina didn’t have the $2700 she needed to pay rent. When the novel coronavirus started spreading in Boston, the families that employ her as a housekeeper called one after another to tell her not to come to work. Her two sons, with whom she shares her East Boston apartment, had their construction jobs canceled, too. 

When Molina heard that the city was launching a rent assistance program, she hoped it would help her cover next month’s rent, at least. But she has gotten no response since she applied weeks ago. Because she’s undocumented, she’s not eligible for the stimulus check, nor for unemployment benefits. The situation is causing her insomnia and severe anxiety, which spikes her blood pressure, she told the Appeal: Political Report. When she went to a clinic, a counselor told her  not to worry about the rent, she said. “Well, that’s what worries us all, I think.”

Molina is one of the 31 percent of Americans who couldn’t pay rent at the beginning of this month. With more than 22 million having lost their jobs in the last four weeks, that number is likely to be even higher on May 1. 

Alameda County halts evictions

Move aimed to help tenants during COVID-19 outbreak

East Bay Times - Alameda County broadened its moratorium on evictions Tuesday, extending protection to most renters during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are things we are doing now that we would not typically do,” Supervisor Nate Miley said, referring to the health crisis. “And I think the same thing relates to this ordinance.”

In order to keep people in their homes, the temporary moratorium now bans not only no-cause evictions, but also most just cause evictions, where landlords could evict a renter for things such as non-payment or violating terms of the lease.

However, landlords still can evict people in some circumstances, such as for health and safety reasons, which can include criminal behavior, as well as if a landlord is going out of the rental business and plans to take the unit off the market.

Contra Costa County suspends evictions, rent increases amid coronavirus shutdown

San Jose Mercury News - Contra Costa County on Tuesday approved an urgency ordinance that temporarily prohibits evictions of residential and commercial tenants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and stops rent increases.

The ordinance is similar to those already passed by San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara counties, as well as some cities including Oakland, Concord, Richmond Pittsburg and Antioch.

The ordinance bars landlords and sublessors from kicking out tenants who fail to pay rent if they can show they lost income or have to field “substantial” medical expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tenants must provide documentation to prove their loss of income or out-of-pocket medical expenses, according to the ordinance. Supervisors said a form, like one Santa Clara County has created, could quickly be made available on the county website for renters to use. Other documentation could include pay stubs, bank statements or a notice from an employer.

The Pandemic Makes Clear What We Already Knew: The Rent Is Too Damn High

In the Bay Area—the most expensive place to live in the U.S—residents are going on a #RentStrike.

YES! Magazine - Terra Thomas, a florist in Oakland, California, doesn’t know when she’ll receive her next paycheck, a concerning predicament millions of Americans are now facing. 

“It’s terrifying for sure,” she says. 

Even before Bay Area officials announced a shelter-in-place order on March 16—to start the next day—Thomas was already noticing her event’s calendar thinning out. As a florist, she had weddings, graduations, and other special occasions booked for the rest of the year, but as the news of the coronavirus spread, her clients started canceling. 

Because of her precarious situation, Thomas, a member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, who had been initially striking against her corporate landlord Mosser Companies Inc. over repairs and other negligence with her neighbors before quarantining, decided to withhold paying her April rent. 

“I need to allocate my money for food, health care and other necessities, not to pay rent to corporate landlords,” she says.  

Thomas pays $833 a month in rent. She’s lived in her building for seven years and is under rent control. Still, even with rent control, coming up with that kind of cash without income is a prospect Thomas never saw herself having to consider. 

The Bay Area continues to be one of the most expensive places to rent in the country, with the average cost of $3,446 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. Many low-income renters live paycheck-to-paycheck. Like Thomas, a growing number of tenants in the Bay Area, around California, and a beginning of a movement throughout the country are rent striking—proactively choosing to not pay rent. 

 

Inside the national rent-strike movement: Red thermometers, tenant manuals & more

 

The Real Deal - Editor’s Note: This story originally published on April 10, 2020. On April 16, news broke of Housing Justice For All and the Philadelphia Tenant Union’s planned rent strikes for May 1. 

“Escalating actions help,” the union wrote in the manual released last week, at a time when landlords are grappling with nonpayment of rent. “Many tenants who are hesitant about an action that is ‘too radical’ may be radicalized when the group decides to settle on a less scary step first, and find it doesn’t meet their needs.” The union suggests incremental efforts such as “simultaneously paying rent late on the same day” and “car protest circling landlord’s house” and offers a thermometer graphic to help tenants keep progress on the way to a rent strike. The maximal point? “Celebrate victory!”

Rents Are Late, and ‘It’s Only Going to Get Worse’

     

 

The New York Times - First it was the waitress whose restaurant closed. Then the waiter, the bartender, the substitute teacher, the hairdresser, the tattoo artist and the Walgreens manager.

One after the other, the tenants called and emailed their landlord, Bruce Brunner, to say they were out of work and the rent was going to be late. A week after the bill was due, some two dozen of Mr. Brunner’s 130 tenants had lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. He’s working out payment plans and using security deposits as a stopgap while directing tenants to the emerging patchwork of local, state and federal assistance programs.

“Six weeks ago, you could name your price and you’d have multiple people applying,” said Mr. Brunner, who lives in Minneapolis, where he owns and manages 20 duplexes and triplexes across the city. “Now you’re deferring and working out payment plans, and it’s only going to get worse.”

One week after the first of the month, tenants nationwide are already struggling with rents. In interviews with two dozen landlords — including companies with tens of thousands of units, nonprofit developers who house the working poor, and mom-and-pop operators living next door to their tenants — property owners say their collections have plunged as much of the economy has shut down to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

State and local eviction moratoriums may not be enough to stop a ‘tsunami of evictions and foreclosures’

Sacramento News & Review - Despite actions by Gov. Gavin Newsom and local politicians throughout the state, an untold number of California residents could lose their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Newsom issued two executive orders last month pausing the enforcement of court-ordered evictions through May 31 for tenants unable to pay their rents or mortgages due to COVID-19. In Sacramento County, these “unlawful detainer” court filings, as they’re officially known, have been trending downward since the Great Recession and were at some of their lowest levels at the start of 2020. But then the coronavirus began spreading here, forcing a halt to daily life and costing more than one million Californians their jobs in just two weeks.

Newsom’s executive actions were meant to reassure residents they wouldn’t be forced onto the streets during a global health crisis in which people are being urged to stay home. But the governor’s orders don’t actually prevent the eviction process from unfolding; they just give vulnerable tenants extra time—60 days instead of five—to respond to legal eviction notices filed in court during the state emergency.

Monday, the Judicial Council of California extended that grace period to 90 days.