California has extended eviction protections for millions of residents, but advocates fear it’s too little and too late to help thousands of San Jose tenants on the brink of losing their homes.
Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, acting in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s absence, recently signed legislation to temporarily protect Californians from eviction for past due rent if they applied for state financial assistance prior to March 31. Moving forward, these tenants can’t be kicked out of their homes for old rent, but can be evicted for failing to pay rent on future months. Tenants who haven’t applied for state relief receive no protection under the new law, which extends through June 30.
Housing advocates say the law offers little protection for tenants who have struggled with job loss and economic uncertainty during the pandemic. They say that after months of anticipation, California could finally be on the verge of a major wave of evictions.
“I do think we may be facing the tsunami that everyone keeps talking about—I think we might finally, unfortunately be at that point,” Nadia Aziz, housing directing attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, told San José Spotlight.
More than 10,000 San Jose households are still waiting to receive money for their rent relief applications, according to state data. Approximately 60% of applicants in San Jose earn 30% of the area median income—less than $50,000.
The average rent for these families was $1,800, said Emily Hislop, a city housing policy and planning administrator.
“I think you can say that most of this population that’s in this income bracket is rent burdened,” she told San José Spotlight. She added the city’s eviction help center was quiet earlier this week, but speculated it could get busier as tenants start receiving notices from their landlords.
San Jose is offering some protection to vulnerable renters. Last month, the City Council approved an eviction diversion program that will use federal funds to help tenants pay landlords for back rent or otherwise resolve eviction lawsuits.
Some advocates would like to see a blanket ban on evictions in San Jose, similar to the state law that expired last October. But recent state legislation prevents local jurisdictions from passing their own eviction moratoriums.
“That’s the reason no tenant group I know of actively supported the bill in the form it passed in,” Shanti Singh, communications and legislative director for advocacy group Tenants Together, told San José Spotlight. “We were all very unsupportive of it, actually.”
She said cities can still pass ordinances to help renters, such as rules barring landlords from illegally harassing tenants into leaving their homes or introducing rent control.
San Jose has made no move to provide additional legal protections for tenants, so the burden is falling on legal aid groups. Aziz said the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley is already seeing signs that the coming months will be busy ones: Last Friday, the foundation fielded 15 calls; on Monday, it received 52.
Aziz said tenants should try to pay their April rent and stay in their house. She added the law foundation has heard about landlords illegally locking people out of their homes or forcing them to leave. She urged tenants to document communications with their landlords and seek assistance if they receive eviction notices.
“Our goal is to connect tenants to some level of assistance, to get them some level of advice,” Aziz said, noting the law foundation has worked with the court on an eviction diversion program and wants to get more pro bono attorneys to assist on eviction cases. “We’re looking at a bunch of different things to try to deal with the crisis.”
There’s widespread concern among advocates that it’s going to be difficult for tenants to find permanent stability, even if they escape the immediate threat of eviction.
Samara Meir-Levi, who was forced out of her Palo Alto apartment after the landlord decided to renovate, said she was able to relocate to a home in Mountain View. She’s waiting to see if her daughter will qualify for financial aid at her preschool. If she doesn’t, Meir-Levi said she will have to pay the equivalent of her rent twice a month.
Meir-Levi told San José Spotlight her situation is less dire than months ago when she was unemployed and looking at rent bills she couldn’t pay. But she recognizes things can change quickly.
“You can get a job and be doing okay, but we all know with medical insurance and medical care being what it is, most of us are one big sickness or bad diagnosis from being bankrupt,” she said.