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State protections for renters extended but fail to meet the moment

Author: Tony Roshan Samara

On Monday, June 28, Governor Newsom signed AB 832 into law, extending California’s eviction moratorium until September 31, 2021. The law, approved by wide margins in the Senate and Assembly, includes some substantial improvements over the previous eviction moratorium law (SB 91) but fails to address the economic and social consequences of the pandemic in ways that support the just recovery of renters in low-income communities of color. These significant, fundamental flaws demonstrate once again the power of big real estate in Sacramento.

The law commits to covering 100% of rent owed for eligible tenants, up from the previous moratorium’s 80%, and, importantly, does not require landlords to apply in order for tenants to access the aid. It also provides some additional legal protections for eligible tenants, including extending eviction protections beyond October 1, 2021, for tenants who have an approved application for relief and are awaiting funds.

The extension itself is important given the state’s inability to distribute almost any of the rent relief funds that have already been requested. Advocates across the state had been demanding the current moratorium be extended and expanded. As a recent report by BARHII, Housing Now!, and PolicyLink points out, more than 700,000 California households are behind on rent, and less than half of one percent of the state’s total federal emergency rental assistance funds have been paid out. Given the slow pace of the rollout and the many problems associated with the program overall – especially the power it gives to landlords – an extension is the bare minimum the State should do to increase access to rent relief.

The law falls short in important ways. First, and most obvious, is the timeline of the extension. As the Keep Families Housed coalition points out, the state’s track record on getting money out the door does not inspire confidence that three months is sufficient time to ensure that all – or even most – eligible tenants will be able to access the funds. A better approach would have been to link the end of the moratorium to the full disbursement of aid. This would have provided the greatest relief for renters.

The bill also extends the local preemption provision until March 31, 2022, effectively banning local jurisdictions from implementing or extending their own protections for the next nine months, and for six months after state protections expire.

More fundamentally, the law takes an extremely narrow view of the problem of housing justice. It does not address the need for long term stability for tenants or the hardships created for tenants who cut other essential spending, borrowed money, or stayed in jobs that increased their exposure to COVID to pay rent. Instead, it reinforces the false and dangerous notion that once the pandemic winds down, social and economic disparities will resolve themselves or can be largely ignored once again. It is inexcusable for our elected representatives to wash their hands of the crisis in this way.

The pandemic has exacerbated deep-seated racial and economic inequalities. Without sustained and robust action, many communities will emerge from the pandemic in worse shape than before it began. The ripple effects will last for years, further undermining the stability of low-income communities of color. What is needed is a long-term plan for recovery that puts low-income communities at the center of recovery efforts.