Renters Fear Evictions Coming Soon
By Dianne Anderson
Everyone is watching and waiting for August 14 to see just how a statewide judicial council vote will impact entire families that could be forced into homelessness.
Agencies serving the most vulnerable populations are at the nail biting stage, worried that if the current rent moratorium is lifted, the courts are going to be overwhelmed with evictions.
Lawmakers are also scrambling to come up with a solution for when the moratorium is lifted.
Nathan Cieszynski, program manager at the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, said an avalanche is going to hit.
There are some programs offering assistance with paying back rent, but that the amount of money is nowhere near what’s going to be needed.
But unless they vote they keep it in place, he said there is no safety net.
Right now, the nonprofit housing organization averages 150 to 250 calls a day regarding inquiries on eviction moratorium, rental assistance, or any COVID-19 housing-related questions.
“There are certain cities and certain county programs that offer rental assistance in the form of dollars, but it’s limited. The qualifications for it are like jumping through hoops,” he said. “There’s so few dollars available and so many people needing assistance that it’s just barely scratching the surface.”
One problem is that many people thought the moratorium allowed them to avoid paying rent if they had the money. Technically, the moratorium was put in place for people who were required to show proof that they could not pay.
Other efforts to protect renters are now in place, but landlords and property owners also need protection, he said.
Forbearance allowed some landlords to not make payments a limited time, but when the moratoriums were lifted, they were required to pay it back within six months.
If their renters couldn’t pay, payment would be up to the owner to work with the bank to tack payments on the backend, or modify the loan. However, those solutions were not promised or guaranteed.
“It would have been much easier if we had some guidelines from the federal level that was even across the board so everyone knew what they were supposed to do,” he said.
Without much guidance from the federal level, the states were left to develop their own approach, as well as county and city level.
“It got very confusing even from an agency standpoint like ours where we had to know what was going on all over, so that we could answer those questions,” he said.
Cieszynski believes that there are going to be a lot of people adversely affected by evictions.
Tenants were advised to pay what they could if they were impacted economically during COVID-19, such as job loss, and partial rent payments were accepted. He said it’s going to be tough for those that have gone up to four months without paying rent.
They will have six months to pay it back, plus the current existing month’s rent.
“If you’re tight for money now, or before you lost your job, trying to pay that past rent plus current rent will lead to problems. That’s why it was recommended to pay what you can,” he said.
He said it’s critical to communicate with their landlords, and they must do it now.
“When those moratoriums are lifted, they are going to have a limited time to get caught up, or they’re going to be evicted and have to move out. There is no safety net,” he said.
Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, managing attorney at Public Advocates, said they are seeing the impacts of systemic racism as Black and Brown communities are hit hardest by COVID-19. The nonprofit advocacy group is one of several co-sponsors on AB 1436 authored by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), to prevent evictions for nonpayment.
“That same structural racism infects our housing system, and if landlords can kick people out of their homes for rent they were unable to pay during the state of emergency, Black and Brown families will once again bear the brunt. California’s leaders must match their social justice rhetoric with action by doing all they can to avert the looming disaster facing renters and keep people of color in their homes,” he said in a statement.
Patricia L. Nickols-Butler, president and CEO of Community Action Partnership of San Bernardino County, said their agency is prepared to help individuals who are struggling to maintain their housing.
Through the Family Development Program’s Rent Relief made available through funding from the Community Services Block Grant CARES Act, she said the rent payment assistance will be based on an assessment of each household’s needs and eligibility for the program.
“After the initial assessment and the client’s eligibility is determined, our Agency enters into an agreement with our client’s landlord to move forward with support. Each household is serviced on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
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