Confronting the eviction cliff
On October 1st, the eviction moratorium that protected some renters in California will expire. The expiration has angered tenants and tenant organizers, while being praised by many landlords and their representatives.
The end of the moratorium means that after October 1st we most likely face an eviction cliff, with the possibility of mass evictions of indebted tenants who have been unable to access or are not eligible for rent relief. The end of the moratorium comes on the heels of the US Supreme Court striking down the less robust federal eviction moratorium at the end of August.
Renters in California currently owe about $2.8 billion in back rent and the state has received applications for $1.9 billion in support. Only about $540 million has actually been distributed, however, representing a stunning failure of government at all levels to deliver a basic service in a time of crisis.
In addition to defending tenants from eviction, tenant organizations and allies across the state have stepped in to fill the gap by reaching out to tenants about the program and supporting them in completing the often complicated paperwork required to access aid, but the need is overwhelming.
Millions of renters have just lived through 18 months of social, economic, and health crises that impact low-income people of color disproportionately. Statewide organizations like Tenants Together and Housing Now! have led their members in a tireless effort to make sure tenants are protected past the September 30th deadline to little avail. Currently, the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco is organizing an action tomorrow to stop pandemic evictions. The fact that these residents are being abandoned by the state now is a bracing reminder of how little low-income communities of color can rely on elected officials and the government when they need them.
Despite over a year of advocacy and organizing, and a displacement crisis now over a decade old, the laws protecting renters across the state remain inadequate. Protections vary across California, leaving renters at the mercy of geography because existing state laws like Costa Hawkins and the preemption in the current eviction law effectively handcuff local governments from taking stronger actions.
The looming eviction cliff was not inevitable. It is the result of action – and inaction – by decision makers. But the lesson is clear. The past year and a half have made it obvious that organizing to build power locally, regionally, and across the state are the only ways that tenants will get the protections they need. Doing so increases the likelihood that we can pass policies that serve the interests of tenants and allow tenants to develop into a powerful political bloc.
The Bay Area Tenant Assembly recently held in Concord on September 25th and organized by the Regional Tenant Organizing Network (RTO) is one example of how tenants can build this power. The assembly brought together 200 tenants for a day-long event to celebrate, build solidarity, discuss issues of concern to tenants across the region, and vote on strategic priorities for RTO members. It is in spaces like this that the future of housing justice in California will be determined.