Eviction moratoriums, emergency grants: What it means to be affected by COVID-19

Katie Lee/Staff

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Across California, government officials have taken action to help those affected by the COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, pandemic and the measures taken to slow the spread of the disease.

The pandemic has limited many California residents’ abilities to work, causing difficulties with income reliability, rent payments and food purchases. On March 16, six Bay Area counties issued a shelter-in-place order until April 7 with the intent to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The order has since been extended to May 3. A stay-at-home order was also applied to the entire state of California on March 19 by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

On March 17, Berkeley City Council adopted an urgency ordinance limiting evictions for residential and commercial tenants for the duration of the national emergency. Newsom also recently extended this moratorium to all Californians.

Most of the orders, including the city’s eviction ordinance, limit their provisions to those “affected” by COVID-19. For the city’s eviction moratorium specifically, any person who has been infected with the disease, has an infected household member requiring care or has needed to quarantine themselves due to illness or exposure cannot be evicted during this time, according to UC Berkeley School of Law professor Dan Farber.

“ ‘Reasons related to COVID-19’ isn’t defined but presumably has to be something similar to the ones that are listed, which seem to involve something financial tied to the virus (as opposed to just being depressed or anxious),” Farber said in an email. “The order doesn’t say how direct or strong the connection has to be, so I guess there’s some room for interpretation. There’s some ambiguity here.”

According to Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn, the city’s eviction ordinance also includes those financially affected by the stay-at-home orders. This means those who have seen a reduction of income as a result of staying at home and business owners who have closed or experienced a loss in revenue, as well as anyone with large medical bills due to the disease, cannot be legally evicted.

Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, added that for the city’s eviction moratorium, all tenants with leases are covered, regardless of legal status.

To mitigate the effects the stay-at-home order has had on small businesses within the city, Berkeley City Council launched the Berkeley Business Continuity Grants, an emergency relief fund. These grants define eligibility as businesses with between one and 50 employees that can demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in revenue because of COVID-19, according to the city of Berkeley website.

Everyone needs a safe place to shelter,” said Councilmember Rigel Robinson in an email. “We need to keep the culture of our city alive through this crisis.”

Contact Tate Coan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tatecoan.