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With Looming Threat of Evictions, California Bill Would Extend Renter Protections Through 2021

With eviction protections set to expire in the coming months, California lawmakers have introduced legislation that aims to keep renters across the state housed through next year.

Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill on Monday that would extend AB 3088, statewide eviction protections that lawmakers passed earlier this year, which bars landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent because of the pandemic. A second bill would create a rent relief plan for tenants, landlords and affordable housing developers.

“There’s not a lot that we know. But what we do know for sure is the pandemic is not over,” Chiu said. “People are still unemployed. People still can’t pay the rent.”

Right now, renters who have lost income due to the pandemic are shielded from eviction as long as they continue to pay 25% of their monthly rent. But that is set to expire on January 31. Tenant advocates fear if those protections are lifted, a wave of evictions could displace renters who have already been slammed financially by the pandemic. Over 2 million renter households in California reported “little to no confidence” in their ability to pay next month’s rent, according to the latest Household Pulse SurveyÂfrom the U.S. Census Bureau.

“If tens of thousands of folks are forced from their homes, COVID-19 will be much more likely to spread and have devastating consequences. And we can’t allow that to be our fate,” Chiu said.

Kristina Soriano and Jonas Di Gregorio said extended renter protections can’t come soon enough. The couple live in San Francisco and both lost their jobs during the pandemic. Di Gregorio was a restaurant server and had a second job working in retail. Soriano taught music at an afterschool program in Berkeley.

“It’s very stressful. Just the unknowing of it,” Soriano said.

The couple have mostly gotten by from Zoom piano lessons she’s picked up and from dipping into savings.

“Our savings — we don’t don’t know exactly how much they will last. So it’s very uncertain,” Di Gregorio added.

Because of AB 3088, Soriano and Di Gregorio cannot be evicted from their San Francisco studio as long as they keep paying 25 percent of their monthly rent. But the rest of the money will come due eventually. Any rent they miss between March 1 and August 31 will be converted into civil debt, which landlords could sue tenants to recover in small claims court, but could not use as a reason for eviction.

Debra Carlton, executive vice president of state government affairs for the California Apartment Association, argues the Legislature should take a more incremental approach, rather than extend the protections for the rest of next year.

“Small landlords can’t wait that long,” Carlton said. “Unless the state or federal government provides some dollars for rent payments, it’ll be a real problem to go into 2021.”

Chiu said his second bill is a work in progress but aims to get relief into the hands of renters and landlords, who already face mounting debts. California renters could owe $1.7 billion in back rent by the end of this year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

“We have to have a very critical conversation about how we’re going to deal with the debt crisis, the potential foreclosure crisis that we’re facing as a result of many months of renters being unable to to make the rent in California,” said Brian Augusta, the legislative advocate for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

Lawmakers will have to work quickly. The Legislature isn’t set to reconvene until after the new year. They’ll have just the month of January to strike a deal between property owners and tenant advocates. In order to go into effect immediately, it would need to pass with a two-thirds majority vote.

But California legislators say the state can’t fund rent relief on its own. They’re also pinning their hopes on the federal government and the possibility of another stimulus package.

Copyright 2020 KQED