Richmond Passes Real Eviction Protection
Out of all the strategies to stop the spread of COVID-19, the ability for people to isolate is one of the most obvious and impactful. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that stopping all US evictions and utility shutoffs through November of last year could have saved 164,000 lives lost to the virus. Never has there been a more urgent need to prevent individuals from sliding into homelessness.
On March 23, the Richmond City Council passed a an urgency ordinance to enact a temporary moratorium on evictions related to the pandemic. Richmond tenants are now protected from eviction for the duration of the state of emergency and 60 days thereafter.
With SB91, the COVID-19 tenant relief act signed into law in January, California legislators also took some partial steps to help tenants across the state. The Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency recently published resources and eligibility guidelines for renters and small landlords seeking relief through the Housing Is Key program. This information is also available in Spanish, and by phone at 1-833-430-2122.
While there are some real, material benefits to SB91, it is not an outright ban on evictions. State court officials estimate that landlords will file 240,000 eviction cases this year, double the amount in a typical year. Here in Richmond, where 55% of residents are renters, the Contra Costa County Superior Court continues to file eviction proceedings, and the Sheriff’s department still assists landlords in physical removal of tenants.
SB91 was negotiated with no meaningful input from tenant advocates, public health experts, or community organizations. As David Sharples, an organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) says: “We know that this bill will not protect everyone. Some tenants will continue to fall through the cracks and not receive much help. We as housing justice warriors must continue the fight to ensure that even when the moratorium is lifted, tenants are protected and are able to get back on their feet.”
Under the previous legislation (AB3088) that expired on Feb. 1, tenants were protected from eviction so long as they paid at least 25% of their rent on time (although any unpaid rent would have to be paid eventually). The new bill created a “deal or no deal” situation for landlords, giving them the option to either accept public assistance and recover 80% of lost rental income, or reject the offer and move forward with eviction - thus enabling them to exploit tenants through illegal lockouts, no-fault and Ellis Act evictions, not to mention harassment and small claims lawsuits for unpaid rent.
This program is open to abuse by corporate landlords that have the means to forego the state assistance, and pursue eviction as a means to remove long tenured tenants who may be paying below-market rates due to rent control.
That's why there was a need to go beyond what is in SB91 to ban evictions at the local level. So far Alameda County, and the cities of Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, and Hayward have added an eviction moratorium on top of the SB91 rules.
Councilmembers Melvin Willis and Gayle McLaughlin introduced a motion at Feb. 16 Richmond City Council meeting directing city staff to develop eviction moratorium proposals. While Mayor Butt downplayed the severity of tenant displacement and expressed disbelief that any Richmond renter is at risk of eviction, he was the lone opposition vote as the motion passed with support of Willis, McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez, Claudia Jimenez, and Demnlus Johnson (Nat Bates was absent). At the March 23 the eviction moratorium passed by a vote of 5-2, with Butt and Bates voting against.
PHOTO BY: STEVE RHODES