Santa Clara County extends eviction moratorium, approves COVID-19 cost tracker and outreach
The Board of Supervisors voted to extend Santa Clara County's moratorium for evictions for those who can't pay rent because of the pandemic. Photo By Nicholas Chan.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to extend a temporary moratorium on evictions for people who can’t pay rent due to the pandemic. The county’s moratorium, which was set to expire Sunday, will now be extended until Aug. 31 under a proposal authored by Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Joe Simitian.

“The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors have played an instrumental role to make sure that these protections are in place for a broad swab of our community,” said Poncho Guevara, executive director at Sacred Heart Community Service. “This is one piece of the larger puzzle that needs to be put together, so that we do not let the devastation that awaits so many renters in our communities happen.”

The county is one step ahead of the state in protecting renters. Gov. Gavin Newsom has yet to extend his executive order which allows local governments to suspend evictions for those who have difficulty paying rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

San Jose city officials also extended a citywide measure shielding renters from eviction last week.

“We wanted to take action today to provide as much certainty and security as we possibly can …” Simitian said. “The world is upside down. People have been asked to shelter-in-place but they can’t shelter-in-place if they don’t have a roof over their heads.”

If Newsom decides against extending the order, County Counsel James Williams told the Board of Supervisors that the county may still implement elements of the ordinance. Chavez and Simitian wrote a letter to Newsom last week, urging him to take action.

“The governor has done so much for homelessness,” Chavez said at the news conference Monday. “We’re asking him to help us prevent more and more people from becoming homeless.”

Meanwhile, renters and housing advocates have lobbied for the county to forgive unpaid rent. But County Executive Jeff Smith told San José Spotlight it likely won’t happen. “We believe the county doesn’t have the authority to force landlords to forgive rent. All we can do is give renters the moratorium,” he said.

The county also doesn’t have the funding needed to repay landlords, according to Chavez.

“A lot of people who are property owners are also mom-and-pop (businesses) themselves,” Chavez said. “They have mortgages to pay. Our significant challenge is that we would need to figure out a way to make the property owner whole.”

Simitian said he and Supervisor Dave Cortese will discuss whether rent forgiveness is permissible at the Federal Affairs Advocacy Task Force Wednesday. As renters have 120 days to pay back any overdue rent when the eviction moratorium ends, Simitian directed county counsel to provide more time and flexibility for repayments.

Public dashboard detailing COVID-19 expenses

In a bid to increase government transparency, county supervisors approved creating a new dashboard detailing COVID-19 expenditures. Following the approval of a proposal from Supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Dave Cortese, the county will begin reporting COVID-19 spending by county departments and expected reimbursements from the state or federal government.

The new COVID-19 tracker should include a breakdown of all expenses by date, type, vendor and county department, the proposal said. Lawmakers also called for including costs of staff time spent responding to the public health crisis.

“With the enormous sacrifice, our residents are being asked to make to fight the COVID virus,” Ellenberg said in a statement. “We owe them in return the greatest level of transparency in our effort to contain the virus and move us away from a Shelter in Place order.”

To reduce the costs of creating a COVID-19 cost tracker, the proposal recommends using pro-bono volunteers. The cities of St. Louis and New York have similar trackers.

COVID-19 outreach

The board also unanimously approved a proposal authored by Chavez to establish a team of health workers to provide health education and free masks to the county’s most vulnerable residents, including low-income and immigrant families in East San Jose who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 cases and deaths.

“As I have gone out into the community with my mask … one of the things that I saw was that the east side (of San Jose) was filled with people not wearing masks, not social distancing,” Chavez said.

Chavez’s strategy to recruit and deploy the team mirrors the Promotores De Salud model, the Spanish term for community health workers. The idea is to recruit trusted community members to educate local residents, one that is also used by nonprofit Community Health Partnership for more than 20 years to reduce and prevent cancer among low-income and uninsured women in the county. Many of its Promotores are from East San Jose, educating residents about breast and cervical cancer, and connecting them to local health clinics.

“It’s someone that you know and trust. Someone that cares about the community and lives in your neighborhood. Someone that is a good person,” said Dolores Alvarado, chief executive officer of Community Health Partnership. “The person becomes a promoter of health. It’s having coffee with your comadres, your friends around the neighborhood and you’re going to get some solid education.”

The county’s plan to create a team of Promotores comes at a crucial juncture as Alvarado said some people fail to understand the importance of social distancing while many immigrants are suspicious of the government.

“For many immigrants, particularly those that are undocumented,” Alvarado said. “isolation and quarantine brings up some really scary feelings and memories.”

Contact Nicholas Chan at nicholas4b@gmail.com or follow @nicholaschanhk on Twitter.

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