Thousands of San Jose residents owe rent, brace for evictions
With the statewide eviction moratorium over, Flora Ruela (right) has to find a way to pay rent. She has a bad back that has prevented her from working. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

With the statewide eviction moratorium terminated, thousands of San Jose residents brace for a wave of ejections.

The state ban that protected renters from being booted from their homes for not paying rent due to COVID-19 expired last Thursday. Now tenants have to pay at least 25% of their owed rent from the past year or apply for rental assistance to avoid evictions. Landlords can also start pursuing debts in small claims court on Nov. 1.

According to the National Equity Atlas, 12,800 San Jose households are behind on rent, with an average $4,600 in debt. That’s more than $58 million in rent owed in the city. As of Tuesday, approximately 3,310 households in Santa Clara County have received financial aid from the state—about a third of all applications filed, according to state data. More than $44 million has been allocated to date.

Tough for everybody

Some eviction notices have already made their way to tenants’ inboxes and front doors.

Sandra Campos, an East San Jose resident for 17 years, lost her job cleaning houses when the COVID-19 pandemic hit more than a year ago.

The single mom of four has managed to make ends meet with her savings and unemployment checks. But Campos was hit hard when unemployment benefits expired at the start of September and when the eviction ban ended. She now struggles to pay the rent she owes and received a notice from her landlord several days ago.

“It’s tough for everybody,” Campos told San José Spotlight, adding that she knows others facing the same threat. “Income is too low… and I just don’t know what to do.”

Sandra Campos is seeking rental relief through the city’s eviction help center after the state ban on evictions expired last week. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Campos was among several families at the eviction help centers in San Jose on Tuesday. An initiative by the city was implemented in August to help renters navigate their applications to receive rent relief—and legal groups are offering free access to attorneys if they face evictions.

The city has opened two help centers—one on the 12th floor of City Hall and one in East San Jose in the Franklin-McKinley School District—targeting low-income renters.

As of Monday, the centers have helped roughly 500 households, said Emily Hislop, San Jose housing policy and planning administrator.

“The last days of September were very busy,” Hislop told San José Spotlight, adding the East San Jose center helped complete 15 rental assistance applications in one day. “It has slowed down now… but we might see an uptick again by mid-month.”

The centers are seeing a decline in need for assistance because many residents think they can no longer apply for rent relief because the moratorium expired, which is not true, Hislop said.

Resident Manuel Ojeda (left) lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic. He and his wife came to the city’s eviction help center in East San Jose to apply for rent relief. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

There’s still time

Flora Ruela, a resident in East San Jose for 28 years, has a bad back that’s prevented her from working. Her social security checks often go toward paying her $1,200 monthly rent.

Ruela, joined by her daughter, came to the eviction help center to find a way to pay future rent.

“It’s so expensive here,” Ruela said through her daughter who translated from Spanish. “And we have little money.”

Manuel Ojeda, another East San Jose resident, came to the center with his wife to sign up for rent relief.

“My employment is gone,” he said, adding that he’s been looking for a new job.

The centers help tenants fill out applications for rent owed, past utility bills and future rental assistance. In some cases, the centers help renters set up email accounts to track their applications, Hislop said.

The majority of renters come to the centers for help because of the lengthy, complicated process and language barriers. More than half of residents who came to the East San Jose center speak Spanish only, Hislop said.

Hislop anticipates the eviction help centers will shift focus to educate tenants about their rights and resources, as well as help connect them with attorneys from the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and Bay Area Legal Aid in upcoming weeks.

“There is still time to apply for rent assistance,” she said. “We’re ready to help (tenants) with anything they need.”

To learn more about help and resources for renters facing eviction, click here.

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

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