By Eli Wolfe
San Jose tenants won’t be pushed off an eviction cliff this summer, but they’re still uncomfortably close to the edge.
The City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to extend the local eviction moratorium that was set to expire June 30 through Aug. 31, ensuring two more months of protection for tenants who have fallen behind on rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city’s latest ruling is an extension of California’s statewide ban on evictions during the pandemic. Mayor Sam Liccardo noted that the state could supersede San Jose’s ordinance in a matter of days. This is more good news for tenants and landlords who learned in May that California will cover 100% of all past-due rent owed in a multi-billion-dollar campaign.
But councilmembers, city officials and advocates voiced concern that an extra two months of eviction protection won’t do enough to help those pushed to the edge by the financial strain of the pandemic. Many were also skeptical of the state’s ability to speedily disburse funds for rental assistance.
“There’s a tremendous amount of despair and anxiety in half of the city,” said Councilmember Maya Esparza, who urged the council to extend the moratorium through the end of the year. “California already has more than half the country’s homeless folks—we don’t want to contribute any more to that.”
Liccardo and other councilmembers expressed interest in continuing the moratorium through Dec. 31. The city’s attorney, Nora Frimann, said that employees will need to make findings that a further extension is necessary to protect public health and safety before enacting additional time.
Housing advocates chimed in during the meeting to support continuing the moratorium through the end of the year, and to give snapshots of the dire conditions facing many San Jose renters who are struggling to make ends meet.
“September is not going to do it, it’s going to take through December,” said Gregory Kepfe, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. “The system is broken right now. I know the state is working on a fix, but it’s going to take time to make it work.”
Kepfe said his organization has helped 88 people enroll in the state program for rental assistance since March. He said not one tenant or landlord received money, while 25 tenants received eviction notices. Other advocates emphasized that renters need immediate access to financial aid.
“The bottom line that we do know is that everybody is struggling mightily,” said Matthew Reed, policy manager with SV@Home. Reed’s organization sent an email last week with an estimate that 37,305 Santa Clara County households have rent debt amounting to $173.5 million.
A handful of public commenters opposed extending the moratorium, notably the California Apartment Association, which cited the state’s relatively low unemployment rate and the reopening of the economy as reasons to lift the ban.
Evictions have declined in San Jose, thanks in large part to the moratorium, which protects tenants who pay 25% of their rent and sign a declaration that they are applying for rental assistance. In March, the city accepted more than $30 million in emergency rental assistance from the U.S. government.
But getting actual cash to tenants and landlords is still proving difficult.
Michelle McGurk, assistant to the city manager, reported during the meeting that almost 3,700 applicants in Santa Clara County have requested $49.2 million in funds for rental assistance from the state since late May. As of last week, only $1.9 million was disbursed to landlords and tenants.
“It’s been very slow,” McGurk said. “It’s incredibly complex. It’s a lot of money, and a lot of clients that need to be served by it.”
To help get more people who need money enrolled in the system, San Jose will conduct pop-up events around the city where residents can get information about rental assistance. The city will also set up an eviction help center.
“We will all be trying to get as many (rental assistance) applications into the system and people paid,” said Jacky Morales-Ferrand, San Jose’s housing director. Later, she added that the eviction center is also for landlords who need some sense of hope and security, “because right now, they don’t believe any money is coming out.”
Councilmembers resolved to return in August to extend the moratorium again. But Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco urged her colleagues to not forget that residents across the city are suffering. She said that she’s heard from members of her district who are struggling to make ends meet, and personally witnessed the lines for food banks in her district grow longer over time.
“All of us have been in this situation where we have fallen behind, and it doesn’t take 60 days to catch up. It takes a lot longer to get out of that food line,” Carrasco said.
Attendees at the meeting paid less attention to a unanimous vote to sunset a law that froze rent hikes in San Jose for rent stabilized apartments and mobile homes. City officials say that allowing the ordinance to expire on June 30 will give landlords and tenants more flexibility in rent negotiations.
Contact Eli Wolfe at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.
This article was originally published by The San José Spotlight.