Hundreds of San Jose families face eviction
An attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley speaks with San Jose resident Antonio Davis about his eviction case on Dec. 21, 2022. He's among hundreds of residents who could lose their homes this holiday season. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Days before Christmas, Zayna Herring, her 4-year-old son Alex and her roommate sat in the courthouse in downtown San Jose, worried they’d soon be homeless.

    “It’s a lot of stress,” Herring told San José Spotlight. “Everything takes money, and that’s what we don’t have.”

    Herring, a single mom working two jobs while attending college full-time, said a near-death car accident earlier this year threw her life into a downward spiral. Now, she and her roommate, Julio Rodriguez, are roughly $10,000 behind on rent—and their landlord wants them out.

    Herring, Alex and Rodriguez are among hundreds of San Jose households facing the threat of losing their homes this holiday season, as the city has seen a flood of eviction filings the past few months. The increase in evictions, stemming mostly from the expiration of COVID-19 pandemic-era tenant protections, is devastating for low-income families in the South Bay, one of the most expensive places to live in the country.

    San Jose, which requires owners of multi-family properties to submit eviction notices to the city, received 295 fillings in November and 116 in December. That’s a drastic increase from 22 notices in April—the first month landlords could file evictions after the state’s protection measures expired. It’s not immediately clear how many eviction cases are happening countywide, but the latest court data shows at least 370 cases filed in August and 346 in September. Santa Clara County saw roughly 202 eviction cases per month on average pre-pandemic.

    “We’re seeing a tsunami of evictions,” Emily Hislop, a city administrator running the tenant protection programs, told San José Spotlight. “It’s all because of the end of rent relief.”

    Eviction hearings at Santa Clara County Superior Court on Dec. 21, 2022. Local officials and housing attorneys said they have seen a “tsunami” of evictions in the past few months. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Thousands of low-income residents in San Jose found some stability during the last two years thanks to tenant protections at the city and state level. But as the protections phased out earlier this year, local officials and advocates are finding themselves filling the gaps.

    “The number of (eviction) cases are higher now than any other point this year,” Karen Kontz, an attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, told San José Spotlight. “Those with the least resources are being displaced.”

    City officials, working with local organizations such as the law foundation and Sacred Heart Community Service, are scrambling to help as many families as they can. A handful of lawyers and city workers ran up and down the hallway on the second floor of the Santa Clara County Superior Court Wednesday—stacks of paperwork in hand—trying to work out settlements with landlords and keep tenants in their homes.

    The San Jose City Council voted this month to add roughly $2.3 million to the city’s tenant protection and assistance programs. The funding comes from Measure E, a 2020 property transfer tax to pay for affordable housing. Hislop said it will help the most vulnerable tenants pay rent debts and provide resources to help them through the process.

    City officials estimate the new funding will help 150 families avoid being evicted. The city has helped 63 low-income households avoid eviction over the past year, with 35 other cases still being processed.

    “People are still struggling,” Hislop said. “We’re acting as the bridge to help them through.”

    Experts say the flood of evictions is related to the end of pandemic-era tenant protections. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Tenants find temporary relief

    Herring and Rodriguez said they tried to pay as much rent as they could over the last few months. They also spent the last two months looking for help, but their efforts yielded little results.

    “Government assistance is very limited,” Rodriguez told San José Spotlight. “At one point, we thought we were going to be OK, but then we all got COVID and I lost my jobs.”

    The pair met Kontz at the courthouse for a hearing for their eviction case. The law foundation attorney managed to negotiate with their landlord to give them another two weeks, while city officials promised to help them pay back some of the rent.

    In another part of the courthouse, San Jose resident Antonio Davis spent his morning going back and forth with his landlord over roughly $20,000 in rent debt. After Davis’ wife died earlier this year, he and his 19-year-old daughter have struggled to keep up with the cost of living.

    “Everything changed after her passing,” Davis told San José Spotlight. “It’s hard for us, mentally and physically.”

    Attorneys with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley convinced his landlord, Juilo Matos, to waive the rent debt, but Davis’ family will have to move out next year. Matos told San José Spotlight he rents out several homes in the city and has lost roughly $67,000 in rent since the pandemic.

    “It’s a lot of money,” Matos said. “Good thing I still have other sources of revenue. If not, I would have been on the streets.”

    For Davis, the settlement is welcome news.

    “I’m happy about the (deal),” he said. “At least we won’t have the eviction on our record.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

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