California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a bill extending federal rent relief Monday, though local rent coalitions said tenants will be denied such protections if their landlords opt out.
CA SB 91 is intended to replace the previous COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020, which expires at the end of the month. In addition to extending California’s eviction moratorium through June, the bill proposes the federal government cover up to 80% of low-income tenants’ unpaid rent on the condition that their landlords waive the remaining 20%. Landlord participation is not mandatory, however, leaving tenants and policy activists concerned about evictions during the looming housing crisis.
“While I am appreciative that the Governor and Legislature have reached an agreement to extend critical eviction protections during this public health emergency, I am disappointed that SB 91 would punish cities like Berkeley which took early and strong action to protect our neighbors through our local eviction moratorium,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín in an email.
Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board vice chair Soli Alpert added that AB 15, a bill initially introduced Dec. 7 to extend and strengthen AB 3088, would have offered short-term eviction protections after AB 3088 expired. AB 16 was introduced Jan. 13 and was aimed at providing long-term stabilizing care after AB 15 was enacted.
Newsom’s proposed bill, however, undermines these efforts by failing to enhance the protections currently provided under AB 3088, Alpert said. According to Alpert, the bill is “insufficient and needlessly complicated,” which he attributes to a rushed process and lack of community participation.
SB 91’s design provides ample opportunity for tenant discrimination, as landlords are not required to accept rental assistance for an entire building, according to Leah Simon-Weisberg, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board chair. She added that landlords can “pick and choose, unit by unit,” which tenants will receive rent relief.
A disproportionately high amount of California renters in a financial crisis are low-wage and nonwhite, according to Sarah Treuhaft, vice president of research at PolicyLink.
“These same Californians were already in a precarious financial and housing situation due to systemic racism in our housing and labor markets,” Treuhaft said at a Tuesday press conference. “Rent debt is a pressing equity issue that threatens to exacerbate the racial wealth health gap. Clearing this debt is essential to an inclusive recovery.”
Dr. Margot Kushel and Dr. Kathryn Leifheit stressed the significance of the connection between public housing and public health during the COVID-19 pandemic in the press conference.
Overcrowded households and homelessness lead to health issues, Kushel added, citing food availability and missed educational opportunities. In summer 2020, lifting eviction moratoriums was associated with more than 400,000 COVID-19 cases and 10,000 deaths nationally, according to Leifheit.
“Moratoriums prevent cases and deaths in the community at large — not just among families who themselves are evicted,” Leifheit said at the press conference. “Preventing evictions can help us find a way out of the pandemic.”
Arreguín added that Berkeley may have to spend its own money on rent relief, given that the city does not receive direct federal eviction prevention funds.
Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn said in an email that the state’s offering to cover 80% of unpaid debt was “generous” but landlords should be required by law to waive the remaining 20%.
“The long-term goal here is that nobody comes out of this in devastating debt,” Simon-Weisberg said. “Tenants should breathe easy for another few months, but we’ve got to keep fighting.”