Renter Homelessness, Providers Brace for Worst
By Dianne Anderson
Renter protections ended last Thursday in California, leaving community advocates worried that if it’s not already on the radar of local leadership, it will be soon.
Felicia Jones with Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement is bracing for the inevitable fallout of the end of the eviction moratorium with countless thousands of renters in the lurch of pending evictions in California.
She wonders how long before families are literally kicked to the curb. There is no doubt that many people never received their emergency rental assistance help.
“There’s still so much we don’t know, but for those that didn’t get their [paperwork] in, or still in limbo and not approved, there’s no more protection for them,” said Jones, associate director of C.O.P.E.
COPE pursued information under the Public Records Act and discovered that even under the moratorium, over 6,000 unlawful detainers were filed between October to December of last year. For such a short period of time, she said it was a big impact, and that doesn’t include 2022 data.
If the worst happens, she foresees that people living and working in the area may face mass displacement.
“We just imagine it’s only increased and by June, it will have increased even more. We’re trying to sound the alarm and at least try to [secure] temporary shelter,” she said.
One potential solution is for the faith community to use their land for rentals, such as with ADUs or other temporary shelters. COPE also supports the push for the legislature to address rent gouging.
Rent easily tops $2,700 a month for a two bedroom, and requires up to 2.5 times the amount of rent. With an increased demand for emergency housing, some landlords may spike rents higher.
“How do you save for that?,” Jones said. “We recognize that families may be forced to live in their cars. We’re saying that we also need solutions to keep families protected if they have to live in their cars.”
Many homeless already live in their cars and have jobs but don’t earn enough to make rent. Even if they are unemployed or have other issues, she said housing is a human right and the community is now in crisis mode.
Last year, she connected with one mother who worked at Amazon for three years, while living at a hotel paying weekly. When events came to town, her reservation was not honored, and she was pushed out of her room with her kids.
COPE is part of a coalition of community based organizations pushing for solutions. Using the vacant Carousel Mall in San Bernardino for mixed use, including residential, could help with the housing shortage. They also want to see more modulars and community benefits agreements for affordable housing that could be attached to the mall.
She said the narrative needs to change around homeless stereotypes. Today, many homeless are everyday working people.
“This is a countywide issue, not just the city of San Bernardino, and other counties,” she said. “The need is so great and unfortunately the housing vulnerability is also great.”
Another problem is that corporate buyers in the rental market have turned predatory, pushing out low income renters and people of color to further jack up the price of rent.
“And Black people specifically, who are disproportionately impacted by housing discrimination and housing displacement. We have a crisis that does impact certain populations of people that we can’t ignore,’ she said.
She said the city needs to troubleshoot now to deal with mass displacement, especially protecting the families that are forced to live in their cars. Temporary housing is needed now, and she said Los Angeles is handling its crisis by designating safe parking lots.
“If they are forced to live in their cars to do so with humanity and without being ticketed or have child protective services [involved.] They’re at risk of losing their kids, we don’t want to do further harm,” she said.
Also working to help protect renters is the Neighborhood Housing Services of the Inland Empire, Inc., a HUD approved housing counseling agency that supports community and educates on the rental process, including eviction counseling.
Kailin Scott said their organization saw the impact of homelessness early on, following increased evictions when the moratorium first lifted before January 31 of this year, and through the March 31 extension.
“There was a period of time when money had dried up for rental assistance and support. We were kind of sitting on our fingers waiting. It was a hard conversation that our counselors were having with the families,” said Scott, NHSIE Deputy Director.
Back then, she recalls going to board meetings to see if they could tap some of their unrestricted funds to help more people get into hotels.
“It was really heart-wrenching. Again this was before the moratoriums were lifted,” she said. “Fast forward today, it’s going to be that much worse.”
She said they are working closely with San Bernardino Legal Aid team to make sure renters understand their rights as a tenant.
They are also working with the Housing Authority to make sure all resources are available, but she anticipates a flood of individuals in jeopardy as the renters she sees are extremely far behind, as much as $15,000 behind.
At the state level, the release of funds has been slow and backlogged.
The other side of the equation is that homeowners also lost money during the pandemic.
“We have a double edge, not only are we dealing with the rental moratorium but also the issue of foreclosure,” she said. “We’re seeing those individuals coming out of the forbearance now wanting to have the modification and want to see if they qualify for the relief fund.”
According to a recent report from the National Equity Atlas, over 217,000 California renters were still waiting for assistance in May, disproportionately impacting people of color. They estimate between 15,000 and 33,000 first-time applicants would be still waiting after eviction protections had expired on June 30.
For help and information, see https://copesite.org/
To see the level of rent debt by race in America