State Sen. Nancy Skinner introduces bill to offer legal aid for at-risk tenants

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Stephanie Li/Staff

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State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, announced Monday the unveiling of SB 18, which seeks to expand state funding and offer rental assistance and legal aid to help California residents who are at risk of displacement.

Co-authored by State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, SB 18 is modeled after the program Keep Oakland Housed, which aims to prevent Oakland residents from losing their homes, according to a press release.

“(SB 18)’s focus is to expand funding to provide rental assistance and legal services so we can prevent homelessness before it starts,” Skinner said. “It is much more beneficial, effective and economic to do what we can to keep people housed.”

SB 18 would require that the California Department of Housing and Community Development create a guide outlining all state laws concerning tenants and landlords on its website by January 2021. SB 18 would also mandate that funds secured by the bill be distributed as need-based grants, ensuring that these funds are spread evenly across the state.

Another section of SB 18 would create a Homelessness Prevention and Legal Aid Fund. This fund would be used to provide legal aid to tenants facing eviction and to distribute grants to cities and counties to fund tenant aid programs.

“Sometimes tenants don’t know their rights,” Wiener said. “The bill would proactively get this information to tenants to make sure they have access to legal counsel they need.”

SB 18 also states that providing emergency financial assistance and legal aid to residents will prevent evictions and can “break the cycle of poverty.” In introducing the bill, Skinner said she wanted to replicate the success of Keep Oakland Housed, according to the press release.

Founded Oct. 15, Keep Oakland Housed partners with Bay Area Community Services, Catholic Charities of the East Bay, and the East Bay Community Law Center to provide legal representation and financial assistance to Oakland residents. The program was funded primarily by Kaiser Permanente and the San Francisco Foundation, which now serves as an administrator to the program.

According to Ling Liu, director of marketing and communications for the San Francisco Foundation, since the founding of Keep Oakland Housed, the program has received 1,500 calls for assistance and has supported 150 households with emergency financial assistance that was often used to pay back rent.

“Production, protection and preservation are at the heart of what our foundation is doing to address the housing crisis in the Bay Area,” said San Francisco Foundation Chief Executive Officer Fred Blackwell in an email. “We’re grateful to our partners working to keep Bay Area residents housed, and to Senator Skinner for introducing SB 18.”

Contact Clara Rodas at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ClaraRodas10.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that SB 18 was modeled after a program called Keeping Oakland Housed. In fact, the program is called Keep Oakland Housed.