UPDATE: Santa Clara County extends eviction moratorium through Sept. 30
Maria Ruiz, who is late on rent payments because of the pandemic, urges Santa Clara County leaders to extend eviction moratoriums at a Monday press conference. Translator Priscilla Acuña Mena stands in the background. Photo by Carly Wipf.

    The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved extending eviction moratoriums through Sept. 30, giving tenants more time to pay back late rent without fear of eviction.

    With the state’s eviction moratorium set to expire Aug. 14, housing advocates called for an extension. The Santa Clara County court also began hearing eviction cases again, mounting community fears.

    “Our community is experiencing economic hardship on an immeasurable scale,” Cindy Chavez, president of the Board of Supervisors, said Monday. Chavez and Supervisor Joe Simitian in March proposed extending the moratorium.

    “We couldn’t allow families or small businesses to be pushed out on the streets. When the governor allowed us to extend, we did so in August,” Chavez said. “Now the governor will allow us to extend that protection through September.”

    Working to repay rent 

    Maria Ruiz worked at McDonald’s full time for more than a decade until the pandemic. After COVID-19 hit, her employer slashed her hours in half and now Ruiz — who immigrated to the United States and has lived in San Jose for 17 years — fears losing her home.

    Priscilla Acuña Mena translated for Ruiz who spoke at a news conference Monday urging leaders to extend the moratorium so people can work toward rent repayment without the looming threat of eviction.

    “Essential workers like myself still keep on providing our services. But even as we work, this crisis keeps affecting us,” Ruiz said. “For that reason, I am behind two months on my rent, the landlord has been pressuring us to pay and has wanted to charge us late fees of $50 extra each month.”

    Working Partnerships USA and the Silicon Valley Law Foundation released a report last month called the Eviction Time-Bomb report, cataloging the effects COVID-19 could have on eviction rates. The report found that before COVID-19, almost half of Silicon Valley renters paid 30 percent of their income in rent. The average San Jose renter who was unable to pay rent for the past three months would be $7,000 in debt.

    For Ruiz, being two months behind on rent means she is $3,200 in debt. In addition to starting a new part-time job at McDonald’s on Wednesday, she has started selling baked goods, cleaning houses and selling at the flea market to maintain her apartment, which she shares with her two daughters and two grandchildren.

    “Just thinking about the possibility that we could get evicted has put an enormous stress in my life, especially to think that my daughters and I are alone in this country,” Ruiz said.

    Stockpiling eviction cases 

    After a long hiatus, the Santa Clara County unlawful detainer (eviction) courtroom reopened Aug. 5. While current state law bars new eviction cases from being filed during the moratorium, there is nothing stopping the court from hearing old cases or landlords from filing new ones in the meantime, according to Caryn Hreha, staff attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, who was there at the reopening.

    The court heard 13 items that were backlogged from March and filed before the moratorium. Once California’s eviction ban ends, courts can start hearing new eviction cases.

    Hreha said she is concerned about the volume of cases courts will have to manage as well as the security of families, especially considering the additional $600 weekly unemployment payments provided under the CARES Act ended July 31.

    “When these moratoriums are lifted, there are over 43,000 families at risk of eviction and that’s 16 times the amount of eviction cases that we usually hear,” Hreha said.  “We’re concerned about all of those cases going forth all at one time, especially if the Judicial Council is taking away emergency rule one.”

    Emergency rule 1, which suspended evictions, is the only statewide measure in place to protect people from eviction. Without it, San Jose residents will only be protected by the Santa Clara County moratorium, which was extended to Aug. 31.

    Tenants must provide bank statements, pay stubs and letters from employers to prove financial hardship due to COVID-19 to receive protections. Once the county moratorium is lifted, tenants will have up to six months to repay half of their past-due rent. They will have 12 months to pay late rent in full.

    Local advocates say the moratorium is not enough protection for San Jose’s most vulnerable.

    “The moratorium should be extended and strengthened at this point,” Jeffrey Buchanan, public policy director of Working Partnerships USA, said.

    Buchanan said now that the eviction court process has revved back up, life will be particularly hard for those tenants who don’t have access to legal services.

    “It’s near certain you are going to face an eviction heading into eviction court without an attorney,” he said.

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    Carlos Castañeda, an organizer with Silicon Valley Rising, intimately knows what it’s like to have limited resources during eviction court proceedings. He and his family were evicted a few years back, but they are staying afloat during COVID.

    “Honestly, it’s a struggle. Everybody goes through it differently. Some people will end up in the streets. Some people don’t. Some people will go to their families, some people, like us —  we couldn’t get an apartment because we had to file for bankruptcy, which messed up our credit,” Castañeda said. “Look for resources. Don’t give up.”

    Those facing eviction or financial hardship as a result of the pandemic can visit the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing for more resources.

    Extending the moratorium

    “We need to have an eviction moratorium that deals both with those who are continuing to face the economic harm of what’s happening with the public health emergency, and those who have accumulated debt that there’s just no way they’re going to be able to pay in time,” Buchanan said.

    An estimated 43,490 households in the county are out of work and not receiving unemployment or other benefits, according to the Eviction Time-Bomb report. This leaves people — particularly people of color, women-headed households and families with children who are more likely to be renters — at risk for homelessness. The report stated mass evictions during COVID-19 could increase Santa Clara County’s homeless population up to 225%.

    Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, said while some programs have successfully sheltered people in hotels, those programs are too limited to solve the growing problem.

    “You have to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 or actually have it in order to get into a hotel,” Perry said. “So people that have not had it are left out there still very vulnerable in a situation where they don’t have proper sanitation, don’t have any protection, and they’re also at risk of spreading it because when they move around, they’re not sheltering in place because they don’t have a place.”

    Perry said the Affordable Housing Network spoke at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting in support of extending the moratorium.

    The supervisors also are planning to discuss cracking down on landlords who are ignoring the moratorium protections.

    “Not all landlords are bad guys,” Chavez said. “I don’t even want to come close to saying that. What I am saying is if you are taking advantage of this time, we are going to stop you from doing that.”

    The state Judicial Council had planned to vote on extending the moratorium in June, but gave California leaders additional time to deliberate. Now that the state Legislature is back in session, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, leader of the Judicial Council, said the Legislature and governor should decide the fate of evictions.

    Two bills providing eviction protections, Assembly Bill 1436 and Senate Bill 1410, are scheduled to be considered by the Legislature later in August.

    “Our hope is that the county will not just extend the moratorium through the length of the emergency but that we will strengthen the moratorium to really protect those low-income, rent-burdened, largely renters of color who are are struggling the most at this point to figure out how they’re going to pay this enormous rent debt here in this very, very expensive valley,” Buchanan said.

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

    Editor’s Note: Derecka Mehrens, the executive director of Working Partnerships USA, serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

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