Assemblymember David Chiu is working to get legislation passed that will extend coronavirus eviction protections into next year. (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Time growing short for state efforts to prevent looming eviction crisis

State lawmakers are working to pass legislation to defer rent payment and ban evictions for the millions of Californians who are struggling to pay rent before emergency protections end this month.

While legislators have already enacted some protections during the coronavirus pandemic, they are hoping to extend the relief, but are up against some tight deadlines.

After legislators delayed their return from summer recess until July 27 due to COVID-19, the state legislature must vote on hundreds of bills before the legislative session ends at the end of the month. In addition, the Judicial Council of California announced this month it may vote on ending state emergency protections for tenants later this month.

“If we don’t make any changes to the law, we’re going to see a whole slew of Californians who are evicted,” Assemblymember David Chiu, who represents San Francisco, said at a virtual press conference Monday.

Chiu was advocating for AB1436, a bill he introduced. For tenants with financial hardships due to the pandemic, the bill would prevent them from being evicted for unpaid rent accumulated until April 1, 2021 or for the length of an emergency order plus 90 days — whichever comes first. It would also give renters an additional 15 months after the emergency order to repay rent. A landlord can seek a civil action to collect unpaid rent when the grace period ends, but not an eviction,

Proponents say that the bill comes at a crucial juncture: Almost a third of Californians reported last month that they either missed their housing payment or didn’t have confidence that they could pay their rent on time, said Margot Kushel, director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations, citing data from the Census Housing Pulse Survey. Around 1.5 million Californians said they didn’t make their previous rent payment and an estimated 37 percent of renters are at risk of eviction, Kushel noted.

She added that those facing the highest risk of eviction are Black and Latinx Californians.

“To allow these evictions to go forward would imperil the health of large numbers of Californians who already face the highest risk of covid,” Kushel told reporters. “It would dramatically worsen our efforts to control the pandemic. To allow these evictions to move forward would be both cruel and reckless.”

The pandemic has become a tale of low-wage essential workers living in overcrowded households where there is a high risk of COVID-19 infections, she said. And multiple members of the family often get infected.

Without further protections for renters, Kushel feared that many would become homeless. She pointed to her research examining the national consequences of the 2008 financial crisis. Many people who first became homeless after 50 had lost their homes due to the 2008 financial crisis. So did their family members, Kushel noted. And in turn, families couldn’t take their loved ones in.

“I fear that the looming eviction crisis of 2020 will make the 2008 crisis pale in comparison,” Kushel said. “We must do everything we can to prevent that.”

Landlords and property owners also worry they will be unable to pay their mortgages. Accordingly, AB1436 has been amended to also allow property owners’ mortgages to be suspended, also called mortgage forbearance.

Another bill in the legislature that would provide landlords and renters some relief is SB1410, proposed by state Sen. Anna Caballero, who represents Salinas. It would allow tenants to defer their unpaid rent and would also provide landlords with tax credits equivalent to unpaid rent during the pandemic, if the tenant repays the unpaid rent to the state.

Meanwhile, Mayor London Breed issued an executive order last month to extend a residential eviction moratorium for an additional month through August 31. And amid opposition from landlords, the Board of Supervisors in June permanently barred landlords from evicting tenants if they can’t pay rent due to the pandemic. The legislation does not waive unpaid rent.

Supervisor Dean Preston has also proposed a ballot measure to buy affordable housing, and set up a fund to encourage landlords to waive rents for tenants.

“[Eviction] impacts health and mass displacement will impact our ability as a society to control incredibly contagious viruses like COVID-19,” Chiu said. “We know that housing is health, and keeping Californians housed is critical in keeping our state healthy.”

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