San Jose expands eviction help centers
Fred Tran (right) works the housing department's eviction help center booth at a community outreach event in Bellevue Park in August. File photo by Annalise Freimarck.

    East San Jose residents, who face disproportionately higher rates of poverty compared to other parts of the city, will soon have a center to help them battle evictions.

    San Jose’s housing department plans to open an eviction help center in East San Jose in the Franklin McKinley School District, which is close to lower-income families affected by the pandemic. The city opened a permanent center located downtown on the first floor of City Hall on Aug. 2.

    The City Council approved a lease agreement with the school district for the eviction center at its meeting Tuesday as part of its transition from COVID-19 emergency response to recovery from the pandemic.

    The pandemic hit East San Jose hard.  Residents said they couldn’t afford to miss work, leading to a high infection rate. Last November, East San Jose averaged 3,441 cases per 100,000 people, significantly higher than the state average at the time of 2,419 cases per 100,000.

    On top of that, many residents are behind on rent.

    According to the housing department, the largest reason residents are being evicted is due to “non-payment of rent”  during the moratorium—with 13 cases of non-payment out of a total of 49. There is no specific data about evictions in East San Jose.

    Rolando Bonilla, chair of the San Jose Planning Commission who represents East San Jose, said he helped a few people close to him pay a month of rent when they couldn’t afford it. He believes that the proposed East San Jose center is a step in the right direction, but not a permanent solution. He wants the city to financially support east side small businesses to contribute to stable economic growth.

    “The long-term answer does require a substantial financial investment that will be that pathway to allow for these families to be able to no longer need services because we’ve given them the economic bump they need to go out and become homeowners, go out and support their business,” Bonilla told San José Spotlight.

    The new eviction help centers are in response to the housing department’s estimate that 27,000 households in San Jose are behind on rent due to the economic effects of the pandemic.

    San Jose residents behind on rent cannot be legally evicted until after Sept. 30 because of an extension on the eviction moratorium signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

    Bonilla said the solution to evictions in East San Jose is not as simple as providing resources for renters—he also wants the city to support landlords by helping pay rent once the moratorium has expired, until money is invested into East San Jose to help residents.

    “The city has to recognize that it’s not just about the protection, but it’s equally about the investments,” he said.

    While the housing department works toward a permanent eviction help center in East San Jose, its employees are also attending local events with pop-up booths, equipped with flyers on rental assistance and eviction help.

    Fred Tran, San Jose housing department division manager, said around 20 to 50 people visit the booths at each event, but sometimes they get up to 100 people.

    Tran said the eviction center at City Hall continues to see an increase in residents seeking help following media coverage of the permanent location.

    “We had a high increase in calls, as well as people showing up to complete applications,” he said.

    Resident Rachel Escobar picked up several flyers from a pop-up booth at a community event in Bellevue Park last week. While Escobar said she has not personally dealt with eviction threats, she knows people who have.

    “I personally like to get resources to help people with the process,” she told San José Spotlight.

    Tran works the pop-up booth and mainly helps residents work through the complicated processes required to receive help.

    “They need either help with the process or navigation, and then when it gets more technical, help with documentation and actually being able to get it into the system so they can have a complete application to get funding,” he said.

    The housing department currently offers rental assistance for residents in certain income brackets, as well as mediation services to help with negotiations between tenants and landlords.

    Tran said the main goal of the pop-up booths is to increase awareness of the programs the housing department offers, including an affordable housing portal which allows residents to search a database for housing in their budget.

    The department also offers emergency interim housing to residents struggling with shelter insecurity.

    “We’re trying to get as many people to actually either go to the sites to apply, or come to our facilities,” he said. “Once the Franklin McKinley center has opened up we’ll have sufficient staffing to actually help.”

    Editor’s Note: Rolando Bonilla is married to San José Spotlight board member Perla Rodriguez.

    Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.

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