Newsom halts some evictions, but financial need in Santa Clara County soars
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Renters across California won’t be evicted for not paying rent if they can show the fast-spreading coronavirus has upended their finances, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared Friday.

The announcement came in the form of an executive order that puts a halt to such evictions through May 31. But renters will still owe their rent when it’s over, and the order doesn’t prevent a landlord from evicting a tenant after May 31, the governor said. That means some renters may still be stuck in a difficult position in a couple months, as many remain out of work until Newsom’s indefinite statewide “stay at home” order is lifted.

The order, which went into effect March 20, aims to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The South Bay emerged as a hotspot for the virus, known as COVID-19. As of Friday, 20 people have died from the respiratory illness and another 574 people have tested positive for the virus in Santa Clara County alone.

Local health officials estimate thousands more are infected in the South Bay, but testing has lagged. As the virus continues to spread and businesses remain shuttered for the foreseeable future, many residents are looking for resources to keep up with their rent — but demand is outstripping supply for such funds.

On Thursday, San Jose-based Destination: Home announced that it was closing applications for a short-term rent assistance program for those affected by COVID-19. The announcement came just three days after launching the $11 million program to help those living in Santa Clara County bridge the gap between their income and basic needs, including rent.

In the first 12 hours of launching on Monday, the nonprofit received 1,400 applications, tweeted Jen Loving, CEO for Destination: Home. By Thursday, the organization had received 3,000 more.

“Today we had to make a difficult decision to pause accepting applications because we have already exceeded the resources we worked so hard to raise,” Loving said. “We essentially ran out of money in 3 days. We are facing catastrophic financial suffering here.”

About half of the applications for the fund were from “extremely low-income households,” or those earning $43,900 or less for a four-person family, Loving said.

The organizations are also asking more companies and individuals to consider donating. Loving tweeted that federal resources for financial assistance are likely coming but “that does not help us right now.”

“I feel scared in a way that is hard to describe, and I have been in this work a long time,” she said. “We will do everything we can to raise more money as quickly as possible.”

Breaking down Newsom’s order

In the meantime, Newsom’s executive order is aimed at staving off displacement during the pandemic. It not only prohibits landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent due to the coronavirus, but stops enforcement of evictions by law enforcement or courts for the next two months, according a news release from the governor’s office.

It also requires tenants to declare in writing within a week of when rent is due that they can’t pay all or part of their rent because of COVID-19.

According to the order, reasons for not paying rent could include being unable to work because they, a family member or someone in their household is sick with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. It can also include having their income reduced due to lost hours or caring for a child while their school is closed.

Tenants may also be required to show their landlords documentation, like termination notices, paychecks, bank statements, medical bills or a signed letter from a boss, the order says. But notably, those documents don’t have to be ready when the tenant tells the landlord they won’t make rent in the first week of April. Tenants just need to provide that documentation before the end of May.

The order comes after state legislators wrote to Newsom Wednesday asking him to issue an order banning all evictions — COVID-19-related and not — in California during the pandemic.

“For now, we need to keep everyone who is currently housed where they are so they can shelter in place, follow recommended guidelines and help California flatten the curve,” the letter states.

Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coronavirus coverage on our LIVE BLOG here.

Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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