San Jose adopts a ban on evictions amid coronavirus outbreak
Mayor Sam Liccardo addresses the novel coronavirus at a news conference in San Jose. Photo by Nadia Lopez.

Fearing severe economic consequences to vulnerable San Jose families, city lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously approved adopting a moratorium on evictions for residents who can’t pay rent because of lost income resulting from the coronavirus outbreak.

As the virus continues to spread across the globe with new cases every day, leaders are advising residents in more than 90 countries to stay home and avoid public spaces, events and the workplace.

But in San Jose, where families are grappling with the region’s exorbitant cost-of-living and crippling housing crisis, many are at risk of being pushed into poverty and homelessness if they can’t pay their bills.

The temporary moratorium, which will be in effect for 30 days with the possibility of an extension each month, is meant to protect residents who cannot make rent on a home or business by prohibiting landlords from evicting them. To qualify, residents must notify their landlords either before or on the day their rent is due, as well as provide documentation such as notices from schools shutting down, doctor’s notes, quarantine advisories or pay stubs, showing they have faced a substantial loss of income due to the virus.

Landlords who fail to comply could face penalties and fees. City leaders will vote on enacting the moratorium after a policy is drafted in two weeks and return to City Council next week to vote on extending the ban to small businesses.

But concerned property owners showed up in droves to protest the move, worried their tenants won’t make up the rent.

“I’m a mom-and-pop landlord who has worked three jobs to pay rent while I attended San Jose State University full time,” resident Yolanda Chavez said. “I worked hard and I’m still working hard. I have to make my payments, how am I going to make my payments and pay my mortgages?”

But Mayor Sam Liccardo said the moratorium isn’t an excuse for tenants to stop paying rent and said it was meant to alleviate many families’ pain.

“There is no belief or delusion on my part, that this is going to solve anything — what it’s going to do is it’s going to help reduce the pain,” Liccardo said. “This is not the cure, this is pain reduction and we’re going to have a lot of people in pain.”

Other councilmembers said they’re worried the virus will lead to a recession and discussed possible strategies to help landlords. The lawmakers will consider creating a fund in partnership with local nonprofits that San Jose families and small businesses can access in order to pay their rent.

“I want to make sure that the folks who own homes, who rent homes, who have multi-housing units as a source of income also are impacted because that loss of income, obviously, will happen when tenants aren’t paying rent,” Councilmember Sylvia Arenas said. “As much as we can, we need to prevent this before we actually get to an eviction.”

Neighboring cities are considering similar ordinances. In San Francisco, District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston proposed a ban on evictions for residents who can’t pay rent due to the virus or from government-recommended health precautions, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

“With San Franciscans being urged to avoid certain gatherings and workplace situations, with residents who are feeling sick being urged to stay home, and with the possibility of further recommendations that residents stay home, it is essential to take action to prevent eviction of tenants who cannot pay rent if they lose income as a result of their compliance with recommendations of the Department of Public Health,” Preston wrote in a Twitter post Friday.

Just one day after Santa Clara County announced its first resident has died from the virus, public health officials took extra precautionary measures by banning large gatherings of 1,000 people or more and extending its declaration of a local health emergency.

County officials reported Tuesday the number of cases has grown to 45 — the highest in the Bay Area.

San Jose leaders implemented a “stage four” level of the city’s pandemic response plan, which includes activating its emergency operations center, providing daily reports on the status of the virus’ spread and adopting “social distancing” practices in public spaces.

The Centers for Disease Control also suggest avoiding public transit, ridesharing services, cleaning “high- touch” surfaces such as doorknobs, tabletops, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables frequently.

For more information on preventing the spread of the virus, read the county’s list of recommendations on its website.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter

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