Breanna Reeves | Black Voice News
Governor Newsom and legislators announced an extension proposal on Friday, with a final vote taking place on June 28. The proposal, AB 832, will extend the current eviction moratorium until September 30, 2021. The extension is supposed to ensure that California uses the $5.2 billion in rental assistance to cover past due rent and overdue utility costs.
AB 832 increases rental assistance payments to give 100 percent of rent owed for eligible landlords and tenants. Under the current SB 91 framework, landlords received 80 percent of rent owed and were required to forgive 20 percent; if a landlord did not want to forgive the 20 percent, only 25 percent of the past due rent was paid for tenants who applied. Under AB 832, applicants who already applied/received funds will automatically get the additional funds to cover 100 percent of rent owed, including tenants who were previously paid 25 percent.
“Now that Governor Newsom has pledged to cover 100 percent of debt, this glaring imbalance can hopefully improve, but we remain concerned that landlords will still be allowed to harass and evict tenants while still claiming 100 percent of that compensation,” said Shanti Singh, Communications & Legislative Director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights. “The protections in place have not been a true ‘moratorium’ and many Californians are still being evicted formally and informally (locked out, harassed, or intimidated into leaving).”
The announcement of the new proposed eviction extension comes just days before the previous deadline of June 30 was set to lapse. Renters and home-owners have accrued large amounts of debt due to the consequences of the pandemic. According to data from the Census Household Pulse Survey, an estimated 5,757,000 households are behind on rent and rent debt is estimated at $19,285,700,000 across the U.S.
Although California officially reopened on June 15, many renters and homeowners are still behind on both rent and utility payments.
“Even though our state has reopened, hundreds of thousands of Californians are grappling with rental debt and the threat of eviction. Removing eviction protections now, while billions of rent relief dollars are still available, would be a disaster and exacerbate our homelessness crisis,” said Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Chair of the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee. “This proposal avoids a massive eviction cliff, allowing us to keep tenants in their homes and get landlords the financial support they need.”
In addition to the eviction moratorium extension, the Emergency Customer Protections implemented by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) have also been extended until September 30, 2021.
“This provides time for energy utilities to notify customers of a new CPUC solution to resolving COVID-19 era utility bill debt, which provides residential customers two years over which to pay off deferred energy bills, with help anticipated to become available in the California state budget. Similar relief was ordered for small businesses,” according to a CPUC press release.
Tenant’s rights associations such as Tenants Together believed that an extension was forthcoming, but not likely that it would be extended for the necessary period of time. Landlord associations oppose a long-term extension. Rather, they demand that the current funds that have been earmarked for rental assistance be disbursed quicker to reduce the burden on landlords.
“We are disappointed that the CDC extended a nationwide eviction moratorium through July, and the state of California has extended an eviction moratorium through September,” said Tom Bannon, chief executive officer of the California Apartment Association. “Both the federal and state eviction moratoriums would not be necessary if state and local governments were disbursing rental assistance funds to tenants and housing providers in an expedited manner.”
Housing and Unemployment During the Pandemic
In May, the unemployment rate declined by 0.3 percentage points to 5.8 percent, and the number of unemployed persons fell by 496,000, bringing the current total to 9.3 million. While these numbers are lower than they were at the start of the pandemic, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they are still well above the measures prior to the pandemic.
“Those who have been unable to pay rent are disproportionately Black and Latinx, women (especially single parents) and low-income Californians of all races and ethnicities,” said Singh. “These groups have lost their jobs in far more disproportionate numbers during COVID-19 than anyone else, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) women.”
As it stands, the pandemic has reduced incomes nationwide with the shuttering of businesses and organizations, leaving more than 20 million workers jobless since March 2020, as noted in The State of the Nation’s Housing 2020 Report prepared by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. According to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey published in late September, “41 percent of all U.S. households reported a pandemic related loss in earned income since mid-March.”
In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to “aid individuals and businesses adversely affected by COVID-19,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The CARES Act initially instituted a 120-day moratorium on eviction filings as well as “other protections for tenants in certain rental properties with federal assistance or federally funded related financing.” These protections helped reduce public health and economic consequences of tenant displacement during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
California’s own tenant relief measure, California Senate Bill No. 91 (SB 91) which extended protections for more renters, was set to expire on June 30 along with the federal eviction protections. The CA Relief Act “prohibits a person from selling or assigning unpaid COVID-19 rental debt, as defined, for the time period between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021.” Both the federal and state-wide protections were extended until July 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021, respectively.
Adam Fowler, Director of Research at the UC Riverside School of Business Center for Economic Forecasting and Development, recognized that California stepped in early on to support renters, but believes that California’s plan would have been better at the federal level.
“I don’t fault anybody,” said Fowler. “When you don’t know if the federal government is going to step in and solve the problems, you’re trying to sand up things where you do have control. And so, I applaud everybody that was a good actor trying to step in.”
Housing Before the Pandemic
Those most impacted by the pandemic, specifically, those behind on rent are “overwhelmingly” from low-income households who experienced income loss, according to the National Equity Atlas. Of those behind on rent, 67 percent are people of color and 54 percent within this characterization are unemployed.
These outcomes are no surprise considering before the pandemic renters of color were already experiencing housing insecurity at a higher rate.
“What I will say is that the challenges around eviction, homelessness, affordability—those challenges aren’t equally distributed across our population, right?” said Fowler. “We know historically that indegenous communities, Black, Hispanic communities, there’s a lot of vulnerability there.”
A report published in March 2021 by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau analyzed housing insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic. The report noted, “[Historically], housing insecurity has disproportionately affected communities of color. Discrimination, once endorsed by the government through redlining, has made Black and Hispanic families pay more for housing than White families over the decades.”
Researchers approximated that during the Great Recession, Black borrowers were 76 percent more likely and Hispanic borrowers were 71 percent more likely to have lost their homes due to foreclosure than White borrowers. Many of these households are still recovering, the report highlighted.
Housing in California has been problematic for some time given the state’s slow process for building new housing units and the increased cost of living in the state. Fowler explained California’s regressive housing policies and regulatory infrastructure are issues that should be addressed in the larger conversation around housing.
“I think I would characterize, like with most kinds of policy challenges throughout the pandemic, COVID hasn’t so much necessarily caused new challenges, but maybe exacerbated or highlighted existing challenges,” said Fowler.
The State of Housing Now
As COVID transmission rates slow in the state and the job market reopens, the state of housing and unemployment has seen some improvement.
The Census Bureau Pulse survey displayed a drop in late rent payments in California, from 20.7 percent in December 2020 to 11.8 percent in May 2021. In the city of Riverside, 16.78 percent were behind on rent.
Throughout the state, cities have enacted their own rental assistance programs, some of which began early on in the pandemic. While SB 91 was introduced in December 2020, Riverside’s United Lift Rental Assistance Program began in June 2020. According to the United Lift data analysis, Riverside County has allocated $31million in federal funds for this program–$22 million from the CARES Act and $9 million from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.
United Lift data analysis shows that approved applicants “disproportionately” identified as Black, as women, and as parents with school-aged children. According to the US Census Bureau, about seven percent of the Riverside County population is Black and 19 percent of approved applicants identified as Black.
“These disproportionalities suggest that Black households are more at risk of housing instability as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic than White households. Among approved applicants, 47 percent identify as Hispanic/Latino,” the report stated. This percentage is slightly below their 50 percent share of the county’s population.
In conjunction with Lift To Rise and Inland SoCal United Way, the United Lift Rental Assistance Program manages emergency rental assistance for four different municipalities: the county of San Bernardino, the city of San Bernardino, the county of Riverside and the city of Moreno Valley.
An economic report prepared by Beacon Economics, an independent research and consulting firm, noted, “Despite a high level of available government assistance, only 11 percent of renters have applied for rental assistance” at the national level.
“We are definitely concerned about our neighbors and the landlords who have not been able to receive any sort of relief and we do acknowledge that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities have been particularly impacted by the pandemic and conversely would likely be affected by the rental moratorium lifting,” said Kimberly Starrs, Vice President External Affairs of Inland SoCal United Way. “And so we are encouraging folks to apply for all assistance that’s available and to not delay, not wait, not hesitate and to call us and speak to our case coordinators right away.”
How to Get Rental Assistance Help
Many agree that the process of getting rental assistance to those in need is slow, which is what AB 832 seeks to fast track.
“It is frustrating that the state of California and numerous local governments have not quickly disbursed funds to those in need, especially to mom-and-pop rental housing providers who have not seen any rent payments yet must still pay the mortgage, insurance, taxes, maintenance and other expenses,” said Bannon.
With the passage of AB 832 renters and landlords alike are expected to see relief quickly. Rental assistance programs across the state and counties are still accepting applications from renters and homeowners in need.
“And the thing for us is that we have all of these programs that are currently operating and thousands of people who have applied and who have received assistance, and we are really really hoping that with these programs and the pipeline that exists, we’ll be able to work with landlords and with tenants alike,” said Starrs. “And like I said before, to extend that grace from landlords to tenants who actually have applications in the pipeline.”
Residents that reside in Riverside County, San Bernardino County and Moreno Valley, including those who reside in unincorporated cities/ territories within these counties, can apply for rental assistance at https://inlandsocaluw.org/rental-assistance or call 211, extension 5 to get help from a case coordinator. Residents who reside in Moreno Valley can specifically seek rental assistance through the MoVal Rental Rescue Program.
San Bernardino County tenants and landlords can apply for the San Bernardino County Rent Relief Partnership. Residents in the city of San Bernardino can seek rental assistance help from the City of San Bernardino Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The only exception is the city of Fontana that opted to use the Housing is Key program with the state of California.
Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at email@example.com or via twitter @_breereeves.