Opinion: We still need an immediate statewide eviction moratorium

Governor Newsom needs to do more to protect California’s renters

By Peter Cohen, Cesar Covarrubias, and Chione Flegal

At a time when state and local officials ask that we shelter in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the need for a safe and affordable place to live has intensified. But COVID-19 has unveiled that our systems and structures are broken, and for too many Californians, sheltering in place is not an option.

On Friday, housing advocates across the state were pleasantly surprised to see Gov. Gavin Newsom issue a new executive order establishing “a statewide moratorium on evictions.” But after reading through the details, it was another disappointing half-step that continues to leave great uncertainty for millions of California renters.

While we appreciate the Governor expressing sentiments in support of renters facing the prospect of evictions, what is on the table is not a moratorium on evictions. At best the order delays evictions, when certain circumstances are met, but does not prohibit evictions from being filed or from being carried out once the COVID-19 “emergency” is over.

This is why we and hundreds of other advocates are calling on Newsom to enact an immediate state-wide mandatory moratorium on all rent increases, evictions, foreclosures, and sheriff lockouts, and other protective measures.

Long before this current crisis, over one-third of Californians were just one paycheck away from being able to make ends meet. The majority of Californians were spending over a third of their income to keep a roof over their head, leaving little money for other needs. And on any given night, over 150 thousand Californians were experiencing homelessness.

As COVID-19 forces businesses, non-profit institutions, and government agencies to shut their doors and send their workers home, millions of Californians are faced with the painful reality that they will not be able to pay for their housing. At this moment our strongest tool for keeping communities safe—sheltering in place—is only as effective as the least healthy and housing secure person.

Community groups recognize this and across the state are coming to their local leaders to enact policies to curb evictions. But too many officials remain unconvinced. There is widespread misinformation and confusion about the recent executive orders, and some officials are delaying action because they think local ordinances are no longer necessary or they are simply afraid of potential political backlash.

The Western Center on Law and Poverty, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and Disability Rights California issued a joint statement on the Governor’s newest executive order and how it still fails to protect the health and safety of Californians. Housing Now! and over 180 housing and tenants organizations submitted a letter demanding the Governor enact a mandatory statewide eviction moratorium to address the gaps in his March 16th Executive Order, no less relevant today than they were a week ago.

Delaying action adds to the stress and anxiety of Californians. Worse, taking half-steps will harm everyone’s health if it means that our neighbors will focus on finding ways to work outside the home in order to make rent rather than shelter in place.

As we approach April 1st, and the rent comes due, we will see the pandemic and crisis expand unless statewide protections are put in place now.

Housing and public health groups have long pushed the state to address the public health and housing inequities COVID-19 brings to the fore. We urge Governor Newsom to tackle this challenge and immediately establish a statewide eviction moratorium and other mandates to ensure people can remain in their homes.

It’s time to do what is right and ensure safe, accessible, and healthy housing for all Californians. This is the important and heroic civic action we need in this time of collective crisis.

Peter Cohen is co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, a San Francisco-based affordable housing coalition and advocacy group. Cesar Covarrubias is executive director of Kennedy Commission, a community-based affordable housing non-profit in Orange County. Chione Flegal is managing director at PolicyLink, a national research and action institute.

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