San Jose lawmakers extend eviction moratorium, expand Wi-Fi hotspots
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

As the county’s shelter-in-place order extends into its third month and many industries remain closed, San Jose lawmakers extended an eviction moratorium Tuesday to help renters facing hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City Council voted unanimously to extend an eviction moratorium until Aug. 31 for tenants who cannot afford to pay rent because of income loss stemming from the pandemic and subsequent stay-home orders.

Without an extension, the moratorium was set to expire June 30. Councilmember Maya Esparza was absent Tuesday.

Supporters of the extension said the measure would help protect the city’s most vulnerable residents from ending up on the streets.

“It’s protecting the most vulnerable members of our community, so repealing it now prematurely would fall disproportionately on those members of our community,” said Silicon Valley Law foundation attorney Michael Trujillo. “We’ve fielded over 1,400 calls since the coronavirus pandemic began and about two thirds of those folks calling in concerned about coronavirus and remaining housed are Latino and another two thirds are women.”

In the South Bay, unemployment rose from 4% to 12% in April, according to city documents.

However, some councilmembers questioned whether the moratorium protections stripped away too much power from landlords.

“It doesn’t sound like an owner with a bad tenant would have much options,” Khamis said.

The South San Jose councilmember supported the moratorium, but worried that tenants not affected by COVID-19 may “work the system” and not pay rent.

He asked for more information on what landlords could do to evict tenants taking advantage of the system.

“There are bad landlords, but there are also bad tenants,” Councilmember Johnny Khamis said.

Councilmember Pam Foley suggested extending the moratorium to commercial tenants, but had to wait until next week because the proposal had not been announced before the meeting.

The unpaid rent is not forgiven under the measure, and tenants must pay at least 50% of accrued rent in the six months following the expiration of the moratorium. The remaining 50% must be paid one year after the moratorium ends.

Funding digital expansion

In an effort to expand web access and remote learning, the City Council voted unanimously to approve no more than $3.4 million in funding to provide 11,000 Wi-Fi hotspots from AT&T to students lacking internet connection.

Khamis recused himself because he owns AT&T stock and Esparza was absent.

Under the agreement, AT&T would provide connectivity to residents impacted by COVID-19 for up to one year. The funding comes from federal Coronavirus Relief Funds.

The plan prioritized allocating resources to students from Independence High School, James Lick High School, Yerba Buena High School and Overfelt High School — all based in East San Jose.

However, AT&T will only provide service for a year.

Officials from the East Side Union High School District said the city needs to move faster to provide resources and build up long-term digital infrastructure.

“I’d like to remind you we’ve been engaging with the city for 6-plus years,” said Lorena Chavez, a trustee for the East Side Union High School District. “We really appreciate hotspots, we really appreciate the funding but a key thing is missing here and it is the timeline. Our families need us now.”

Dalia Borrego, a parent community involvement specialist for Yerba Buena High School, said parents need more guidance on using devices as well. She said many families had trouble using devices and shared one example of a mother whose child has special needs.

“Due to the guardian’s lack of knowledge in technology, even with reading the instructions or staff on the phone, she was unable to use this device to get her son access to the Wi-Fi and the classes available to him online,” Borrego said. “Her son lost almost three months of distance learning.”

Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.

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