By Jill Cowan, The New York Times
California renters teetering on the edge of homelessness may now be able to breathe a small sigh of relief as lawmakers move forward a last-minute deal extending eviction protections through Sept. 30.
“Even though our state has reopened, hundreds of thousands of Californians are grappling with rental debt and the threat of eviction,” said David Chiu, a State Assembly member who leads the housing and community development committee. “Removing eviction protections now, while billions of rent relief dollars are still available, would be a disaster and exacerbate our homelessness crisis.”
The state’s eviction moratorium was set to expire Wednesday, meaning that landlords would have been able to start the process for kicking out renters who were behind on payments.
Although Gov. Gavin Newsom has promoted his plan to use billions of federal stimulus dollars to cover the entirety of low-income tenants’ back rent, advocates say that many of the state’s pandemic-hit renters still remain at risk of becoming homeless.
At issue is the speed with which that money is being distributed. As my colleagues reported, as of a week ago, only about 8% of the $619 million in requests for rental assistance under the state’s existing, more modest program had been paid.
Some tenant groups said that the extension through September still will not leave enough time to get help to the tenants who need it most.
“This timeline does not match the reality the state faces and tenants will be left out to dry,” Francisco Dueñas, executive director of the tenant advocacy organization Housing Now, said in a statement Friday, when the deal was announced.
The proposed extension also includes provisions that would streamline payments to tenants and landlords who had already gotten approved for rental assistance under the existing program, send money to tenants directly and set a new process aimed at keeping tenants from being evicted if they are eligible for aid. Tenant advocates have said that many are unable to navigate complex, onerous eviction proceedings.
Landlord groups said they were disappointed that the state is on track to extend the moratorium. Their members, especially those who own fewer properties, have had to keep paying mortgages, insurance and other costs without sufficient income.
“It is frustrating that the state of California and numerous local governments have not quickly disbursed funds to those in need,” Tom Bannon, head of the California Apartment Association, said in a statement Friday.
Jason Elliott, a senior counselor to the governor, acknowledged that distributing the money was a challenge, “while guarding against fraud and making sure we prioritize those who are struggling the most.”
And lawmakers said that some kind of extension was necessary to prevent what they have described as “an eviction cliff.”
Newsom said in a statement Friday that he was eager to sign the measure as soon as he gets it.
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