California landlords are locking out struggling tenants. A ‘tsunami of evictions’ may be next

The Guardian – By Sam Levin in LA – Thu 30 Jul 2020

As Covid-19 continues to pummel the state, hundreds of thousands of renters are at risk of becoming homeless.

Christopher Borunda’s landlords locked him out. Theresa Ribeiro’s landlord left vulgar voicemails threatening to remove her. Denise Briggs’s landlord said he was selling her house and she couldn’t stay.

Some California tenants have faced increasingly aggressive eviction efforts over the last month, despite emergency protections meant to preserve people’s housing during the coronavirus pandemic. And although advocates have urged state officials to strengthen the rules, key renters’ protections are set to expire without new state plans in place.

The result, experts say, could be catastrophic.

Amid rising coronavirus infections and a worsening economic crisis, hundreds of thousands of renters are now at risk of becoming homeless in California, potentially exacerbating the state’s dire housing crisis. In addition, advocates fear the lack of protections will embolden some landlords to resort to hostile methods to get their renters out, at a time when many Californians have nowhere to go.

With so many families facing huge rent debt, advocates are urging the state to act. The only viable solution, some activists say, is rent relief – a move that elected officials have so far resisted.

“When talking about the scale of eviction and mass displacement, it’s pretty unimaginable,” said Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The state, she said, was headed towards even more dire conditions than the shanty towns or “Hoovervilles” of the 1930s. “This will be worse than the Great Depression.”

A crisis becomes a ‘catastrophe’

When California became one of the first states to shut down in March and millions lost their jobs, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a statewide delay on imposing evictions for people who could not pay rent. Some local jurisdictions passed their own measures – Los Angeles and some Bay Area governments gave tenants one year to pay back the rent they owed, while the city of Oakland barred landlords from evicting people due to non-payment during the crisis. One of the most critical protections came from the state court system, which stopped processing evictions in April.

The protections were not comprehensive or strictly enforced – landlords continued to pursue evictions across the state, in some cases successfully. But the emergency rules did delay total mayhem.

That could soon change, though. The state’s judiciary council announced last week that it was considering rescinding its halt on eviction processing, a move that would reopen the courts to enforce removal cases against tenants. At the same time, Republicans in Congress are seeking to cut extra unemployment benefits, which could be particularly hard on California, where the jobless rate has hovered at 15%.

Experts are now predicting a “tsunami of evictions”. UCLA researchers have estimated that 495,000 households are at risk of eviction in Los Angeles county. In Silicon Valley, one of the wealthiest regions in the world, 43,000 households are at high risk of eviction, and even if just 10% of them end up homeless, that could triple the region’s unhoused population, one recent report estimated.

“We were in a crisis before. Now we are in a catastrophe,” said Trinidad Ruiz, an LA Tenants Union (LATU) organizer.

Some landlords, meanwhile, are not waiting for the disappearance of protections to try to remove their tenants with aggressive means.

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Posted by Teri Perticone


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