Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders are pushing to the brink of a deadline to extend California’s eviction moratorium past June 30, potentially jeopardizing tenant protections amid mounting concerns about the slow distribution of billions in rent aid.
A proposal is likely to come by Friday, the last day a bill can be printed, debated and voted on before the expiration of the ban. Some California renters living in federally-funded housing will be protected through July by the extension of a federal ban announced Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control.
Newsom vowed last month the state would reimburse landlords for 100% of unpaid rent from a federal relief fund that’s expected to reach $5.2 billion. The proposal also included an additional $2 billion to cover unpaid utility bills, making it among the most generous aid packages in the country. The bill, which has yet to be unveiled, would still need approval from state lawmakers.
One contentious piece of the proposal has been how long to extend a ban on most evictions that began in March 2020. Renter advocates are seeking protections through the end of the year while landlords are insisting on a shorter ban and tougher enforcement against non-paying tenants with higher incomes and the ability to make rent payments.
The COVID-19 crisis has been particularly hard on lower-income residents, who are often renters. California’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.9% in May, but is still far above pre-pandemic levels and well above the national rate. The state has recouped about half of the 2.7 million jobs it lost during the first few months of the crisis. Estimates for back rent owed in California have ranged from $400 million to more than $2 billion.
California, the nation’s most populous state, is expected to get the largest share of federal relief in the country. The state also has some of the most vigorous tenant protections in the U.S.
The California eviction ban has lasted for 15 months, and landlords say they can’t hang on much longer without rent. Meanwhile, demand to tap into the state’s $2.6 billion relief fund is high, but during the program’s first three months, the state had paid out just $40 million in claims.
State leaders initially instituted the ban on evictions for nonpayment last year to prevent widespread displacement and homelessness during the health and economic crisis. Keeping residents sheltered, they argued, would curb the spread of the virus. Newsom instructed California courts to stop hearings on most evictions, and state lawmakers have twice passed emergency measures extending protections to June 30.
Gregory Kepferle, CEO of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, said an extension through the end of this year would offer security to residents still waiting for assistance. The nonprofit has played a central role in distributing aid to county residents, helping send $38 million in private and public funds to renters.
But none of the 88 renters that Catholic Charities helped get approved for local assistance had received funds as of last week, Kepferle said. About one-third of them have been given eviction notices by their landlords, and could be taken to court next month despite the promise of aid to cover their debt. “Until the funds have been received, the people shouldn’t be evicted,” he said. “I’m frustrated. I’m mad.”
The California Apartment Association has urged a crackdown on renters abusing the moratorium or failing to apply for aid, funded by the federal government.
“We are open to a short-term extension of the eviction moratorium, however, California has got to ramp up distribution of its federal rental assistance dollars,” said Tom Bannon, CEO of the California Apartment Association.
The state’s largest landlord association also wants tenant protections to focus only on the most needy, he said. “Unfortunately, thousands of renters who were given protection are abusing the system” and able to pay their rents, he said.
Source: Orange County Register