Reopening Business; Renters Hope for Extra Help
By Dianne Anderson
It’s getting hot outside, and beaches, bikeways and parks all beckon Long Beach residents and vacationing students to come out and play.
But for most people, the urgency of recent weeks is more than just a matter of getting out of the house, or even of facing their fear of getting Covid-19.
It’s about personal survival and earning a living.
With so many residents anxious where their next check is coming from, City Council District 8 candidate Tunua Thrash Ntuk said the city needs to start moving forward to create commerce and activity.
At the same time, she sees a lot of confusion around the process of reopening. Some people are downplaying the severity of the pandemic, not aware of how it is winding through society.
“The other issue I’m seeing is [either] they, or no one they know, has been impacted by Covid. It’s much harder for some people to grasp the idea of 80-100,000 potential deaths,” said Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, who is headed for the November 3 runoff against incumbent Al Austin.
Thrash-Ntuk has a background in economic development, and has pushed to develop thousands of affordable housing units along with support for small businesses, and neighborhood revitalization.
Allowing some commerce to reopen is needed to help local businesses and the community to recover, she said. But the idea is to reopen businesses responsibly.
She said folks should wear masks, continue to be physically distanced, and stay “safer at home” as much as possible.
“If we can’t find a way to ease the economic burden for people, they’re going to become less and less willing, and more frustrated with the kinds of shutdowns we have. That’s something we have to think about at the local level,” she said.
Suely Saro, council contender for the District 6 seat, sees many Long Beach families and businesses suffering, including some of her friends and family that are laid off and struggling with isolation. Some are battling family health challenges.
Reopening safely is her priority.
“Mayor Garcia and the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services are working hard with County and State leaders to protect public health, while re-opening public spaces as quickly as is safely possible,” said Saro, who is headed to the November 3 runoff against incumbent Dee Andrews.
In handling the transition, Saro said it’s been hard, but she is proud to live in Long Beach where residents have shown resilience and compassion for one another since the pandemic began.
“Neighbors are helping neighbors and people are looking out for one another. While there are some people who have been critical of how the transition has occurred, it’s clear to me that acts of kindness and positive attitude is getting us through this together,” she said.
She stressed the next best steps for a healthy transition includes following the lead of epidemiologists and public health experts because the second wave of COVID-19 cases is possible.
As the city reopens, she hopes residents will do their part to mask up, engage only in essential activities, and everyone will continue to look out for each other.
Her other concern is that residents receive the help they need as housing and food insecurity increases. As many jobs as possible must be maintained, along with help for struggling small businesses.
“Long Beach’s 6th District faces huge challenges that are only magnified by the impacts of COVID-19. I am going to continue to be focused on solutions around public health, homelessness, and economic development that work for all Long Beach residents,” she said.
It’s hard to tell the economic impact due to lost revenues from homeownership, but tenant activist Jorge Rivera expects extreme hardship for local renters when the eviction moratorium comes to an end.
Renter advocates have stepped up against unlawful evictions since the start of the pandemic. Statewide, he said about 150 different counties and jurisdictions have passed some level of tenant protections.
Rivera said his tenant coalition foresees a lot of trouble in the not so distant future as temporary protections are lifted, requiring tenants to repay rent.
“Are they going to have this big mound of debt accruing coming off of three or four months and throughout the entire time not paying any income? We have no idea if they’re going to have income after this,” said Jorge Rivera, Southern California Regional Coordinator of the statewide coalition of tenant organizations, Tenants Together.
Unemployed renters, or those who experienced cuts to work hours are not going to be able to repay. Eventually, property owners will be allowed to evict.
“We’ll have a tsunami of evictions,” he said.
Now is also a good time for property owners to push for forbearance of their mortgages at their banks. Most housing advocates want to avoid what happened in the Great Recession of 2008 when a flood of foreclosures broke the property values in half, and worse.
Some banks are tacking these months of nonpayment to the end of the loan. In those instances, he suggests that owners call their mortgage holders to make the request.
“If we don’t try to protect property owners as well, we’re going to have a foreclosure crisis on our hands,” he added.
For tenants, his coalition is looking to legislation at the state level, including support by State Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D- Long Beach) introduced SB 1410, which is sponsored by the California Apartment Association.
If passed, the law would require the government to establish $2 billion of tenant assistance. For renters that qualify, it would pay 80% of the tenant’s rent to the landlord. The bill, the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, would provide direct payment relief to renters unable to pay rent due to the pandemic, and landlords who agree to specific terms, such as forgoing rent increases and late charges.
“In order to protect our broader housing economy, SB 1410, an urgency measure, will not only provide much-needed immediate assistance to both tenants and property owners but also protect our most vulnerable communities,” said Sen. Gonzalez in a statement.
To learn more about forbearance see https://www.consumerfinance.gov/coronavirus/cares-act-mortgage-forbearance-what-you-need-know/
To learn about Tenant Rights, see http://www.tenantstogether.org/resources