Over a year after losing their jobs to pandemic-related causes, Elizabeth remains unemployed, and her husband, a landscaper, is only able to get work once a week. Elizabeth says she knows that her family, theoretically, qualifies for the Covid-19 rent relief: they are below 80% of the Area Median Income and experienced financial hardships due to the pandemic.
But Elizabeth says she can’t afford to rely on theoretical assistance. With a family of five, including a 1 year-old, her primary concern is staying housed—even if it means cutting back on other essentials to pay rent.
“I have cut back on food, my internet, PG&E,” she says.
Elizabeth first heard about the Covid-19 rent relief program at a local food bank. It was there that she met a leader from Communities Organized for relational Power in Action (COPA), a faith-based nonprofit addressing issues like affordable housing. The COPA leader told her about the eviction moratorium and Senate Bill 91—now updated as Assembly Bill 832....
The updated bill attempts to correct the gaps that excluded certain renters from the first round of applications. For instance, the new bill allows tenants with informal leases to qualify, requires either the tenant or the landlord to apply (the former bill required both parties to apply) and distributes $250,000 to Community Bridges to help facilitate in-person assistance and outreach —a critical component given the application must be submitted online.
COPA advocated for these changes and more, like 100% of back-rent forgiveness, up to three months of future rent, assistance with utility arrears and tenant records during the pandemic to be “masked,” or hidden, which are now included in the updated bill.
“Of course there’s still some obstacles, but I think what we have now is much better than what we saw initially,” says COPA organizer Mayra Bernabe.
But even though some obstacles were removed, their impact lingers, Bernabe says. “I know some of our families have mistrust for our government programs, because of the way they’ve been rolled out before,” she says.
[Photo: COPA leader Raymond Cancino, Executive Director of Community Bridges attests to hurdles in the process. Credit: Tarmo Hannula, Good Times]
A total of 675 leaders from across California convened on Zoom June 3 in an effort to urge California Gov. Gavin Newsom to extend and expand Senate Bill 91.
SB91, which went into effect in January, was the follow-up to Assembly Bill 3088’s eviction moratorium. It also outlined a state rental assistance program, including changes such as prohibiting consideration of Covid-19 rental debt as a negative factor for prospective tenants.
But the bill is set to expire on June 30, and while talks have been ongoing about extending it, few details have been released to the public. This prompted the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a network of faith and community-based organizations, to hold the June 3 meeting.
On Tuesday, California IAF released an additional statement further urging Newsom and state legislators to extend the moratorium without a preemption. Local COPA leader Mayra Bernabe said they have heard rumors of a 60-day extension that includes a preemption barring local governments from acting to extend their own moratoriums.
“If the extension is any shorter than 6 months, we want to be sure it gives local governments the flexibility to enact additional protective measures,” Bernabe said.
COPA leaders met Tuesday night to send emails and do phone banking to state representatives. Bernabe said they also wanted to put pressure on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors to also consider a local extension, which other counties and cities have already done.
“We already have a big homelessness crisis in Santa Cruz County,” she said. “If this is not extended longer … we can expect a wave, a tsunami of homelessness. There are many out there who are on the brink, or will be evicted soon. We’re trying to get in front of this and prevent it.”
Bernabe added that thousands of households in the county are currently behind on their rent. Many did pay rent, but had to borrow money, take out loans and max out their credit cards—and that’s not even considering the upcoming months.
At the June 3 meeting Carolyn Winston, an IAF leader and member of St. Brigid Catholic Church in Los Angeles, urged people to contact their legislators before the June 15 budget deadline.
“The window is closing, but we have an opportunity to take action to impact legislative decisions,” Winston said. “Our actions influence their decision-making. Together we can effect change.”
Hundreds of Advocates Urge Gov. Newsom to Expand SB91, Good Times [pdf]
Hundreds of Advocates Urge Gov. Newsom to Expand SB91, The Pajaronian [pdf]
With Assistance Lagging, State Must Extend Rental Eviction Moratorium, Santa Cruz Sentinel [pdf]
With the deadline fast approaching on a statewide renter eviction moratorium, the California Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), including Bishop Oscar Cantú of the Catholic Diocese of San José, is calling for an extension of the eviction moratorium and amendment of SB 91 to allow more flexibility with rental assistance.
“Hundreds of families on the Central Coast are barely keeping a roof over their heads — we need more time and more flexibility to give them the support they need to stay housed,” wrote Mayra Bernabe of Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action in an email. “The state has the funds, they need to act to get them distributed to our families while protecting them from eviction.”
More than 500 activists organizing beneath the umbrella of the California Industrial Areas Foundation coalition, including affiliate COPA — a regional nonprofit consisting of 27 dues-paying member institutions across Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties — gathered for a statewide rally via Zoom Thursday night, participated in a call to action in seeking to extend the state’s rental eviction moratorium and Senate Bill 91 or the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act, by an additional six months....
Assemblymember Robert Rivas, who spoke in favor of the state’s previous extension of SB 91, warned in January of a coming “wave of homelessness” without the legislation. Prior to COVID-19, Rivas said, some 3.3 million households in California already were living paycheck to paycheck.
“COVID-19 is a financial disaster that no household could have prepared for – and it’s our black and brown communities who are feeling the worst impacts of the virus,” said Rivas, whose district extends into Watsonville. “Not only are Latinos disproportionately more likely to contract the virus than the general population, but they are more likely to have lost their jobs due to the subsequent recession. Latinos, who make up 38 percent of the workforce, account for 50 percent of statewide job losses since the start of the pandemic, and those who lost their jobs overwhelmingly rent.”
- Santa Cruz County Housing Advocates Seek State Eviction Moratorium Extension, Santa Cruz Sentinel [pdf]
- Local Leaders Ask for Extension of Moratorium on Evictions in California, Telemundo [en español] [pdf]
- California IAF Action on Renter Protection, California IAF
[At the beginning of the pandemic] members of community groups 'Mujeres en Acción' and 'Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action' (COPA) began meeting twice a week at the onset of the pandemic to figure out what community needs were after seeing the virus negatively impact their neighborhoods. They began making hundreds of phone calls to locals, going to their respective churches, schools and other places of gathering, building a list and figuring out what people needed to stay safe – and financially afloat – as the pandemic progressed.
“What we were finding is people almost knew that they have symptoms or believed that they were infected but they couldn’t afford to stay home,” says Maria Elena Manzo, program manager for Mujeres en Acción....
Organizers made a list of things they believed were needed to slow the spread of the virus in the hard-hit farmworker community. The list included better communication from employers about potential exposure and wage replacement for those who miss work due to self-quarantine.
Organizers met with Monterey County Health [officials, and] later began working with a wider group of community leaders, including representatives from the agriculture and hospitality industries and Community Foundation for Monterey County, called the Covid-19 Collaborative.
In December 2020, they presented to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, who voted to approve a $4.9 million budget for a community health worker program. That program, called VIDA (for Virus Integrated Distribution of Aid), is currently funding over 110 community health workers across 10 organizations, Mujeres en Acción among them, to provide resources to people in the communities that are hardest hit. One of the groups, Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño, is providing information in Triqui, Zapoteco and Mixteco, indigenous languages from the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero in Mexico that are all spoken in Monterey County.
“One way to stop the spread was to hire people from the community as trusted messengers to talk to people to help them understand the need of being safe, using masks and distancing and all that,” Manzo says.
[Photo Credit: Jose Angel Juarez/Monterey County Weekly]
In late December, COPA leaders celebrated the unanimous decision by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to invest nearly $5 million in a six-month Community Outreach & Education pilot program targeting neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. This program will hire 100 community health workers -- trusted people from community-based organizations -- starting January 1, 2021. These trained workers will help educate families, as well as connect people who test positive with needed services, including temporary housing for quarantine or isolation, cash assistance, food, medical care and information about employment rights. Workers will target the hardest hit Census tracts.
The program proposal, created by COPA’s “Breaking the Chain” team, was based on more than 2,000 conversations with Monterey County families impacted by COVID-19, and is similar to other programs in California. In the midst of the pandemic, leaders from COPA’s 28 member institutions launched a listening campaign in which they heard stories about the need for rental assistance; access to testing, tracing, and supported isolation; and access to education and distance learning resources.
Allies spoke in support of the proposal including Building Healthy Communities, Center for Community Advocacy, California Rural Legal Assistance, the Monterey County Farm Bureau, Catholic Diocese of Monterey and the Hospitality Industry Association.
When the pandemic struck, it was hard for anyone to know what to do in the face of a whole new kind of uncertainty. Community organizer Maria Elena Manzo did what she knew how to do best: She organized. Manzo works for COPA, Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action. She and her COPA colleagues began early in the pandemic meeting twice a week via Zoom to figure out how they would help mostly Latino workers in the hospitality and agriculture sectors get through the crisis.
Through COPA’s connections, mainly through the group Mujeres en Acción, Manzo and others have made more than 1,600 phone calls since March. They listen to the stories people tell and write them down.
“There were all these stories of how people didn’t know where to go to get tested, or once they got tested they didn’t know what to do or where they could go,” Manzo says. “The list goes on and on.”
COPA volunteer Adriana Molina lost her 65-year-old father to Covid-19 in September. The family believes he contracted the virus at work in the fields.
“Sometimes we asked him to stay home, but he says, ‘I’m fine. I need to work for my rent,’” Molina recalls him saying before his illness.
COPA organizers contacted the County Board of Supervisors and the Health Department over the summer, “so they can see where the gaps are,” Manzo says.
Since then, they’ve met with Health Officer Edward Moreno and Epidemiologist Kristy Michie strategizing how COPA and the Health Department could work together. From there, a wider group with other county representatives and representatives from agriculture and hospitality was formed that they call “Breaking the Chain of Infection.”
Because of the state’s Health Equity Metric, identifying gaps matters to everyone in Monterey County who wants to reopen. As COPA organizers have been working, so have leaders in the Monterey Peninsula’s hospitality sector, whose fate is now tied to controlling the virus in farmworker communities in the Salinas Valley.
[Photo Credit: Parker Seibold/Monterey County Weekly]
COPA Leverages Extension of Eviction Moratorium PLUS $1M for Struggling Renters & Landlords in Santa Cruz Co.
The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors took two important steps today to respond to the pressure on renters unable to earn a living because of the impact of the pandemic on their jobs and businesses. The Supervisors extended the moratorium on evictions to keep tenants housed while providing funds for landlords to cover missed rent payments. Speaking in support of the Board’s actions, COPA leader Jorge Savala said, “Families have abided by the government call to shelter-in-place to reduce the spread of Covid-19, bearing the consequence of lost income, only now to be faced with losing the roof over their heads. Today’s decision to extend the moratorium on evictions will help to prevent a new pandemic of homelessness.”
Landlords are also feeling the pinch when rents are unpaid. As a result of meetings with COPA in June, Supervisor’s Leopold and McPherson sponsored a $1 million rental assistance program from CARES Act funds for inclusion in the 2021-22 budget. Supervisor Leopold, having initiated the original moratorium on evictions at the start of the pandemic, added; “I recognized the severity of the problem in our community and worked hard to find the money to help people during their time of need.”
COPA Leads Community Effort to Extend Renters Protections and Funding for Landlords, Communities Organized for Relational Power
California IAF Leverages Covid-19 Relief for Undocumented Immigrants Using Old-School Practices on New Technologies
When politics, like most other activities, was forced to migrate online, the IAF didn’t seem an obvious winner. For 80 years, the group has embraced one-on-one conversations and “house meetings” to create organized communities whose strong bonds endure beyond a single campaign. These relationships, forged in person, smoothed the transition to digital organizing.
After the virus hit, a flurry of texts, calls and social media outreach followed as California’s IAF groups scrambled to get their people on Zoom calls. The news was grim: Budgets were tight and layoffs widespread. Undocumented people, often the hardest-hit population, were excluded from most forms of aid. The Cal-EITC push emerged from these digital house meetings. “It came from the lament of the people,” said the Rev. Arturo Corral of Our Lady Queen of Angels / La Placita Catholic Church in Los Angeles, a One LA leader.
In late April, local leaders began gathering Zoom participants from their local networks. Meanwhile, organizers sought out influential lawmakers, focusing on three Budget Committee members: State Assembly members David Chiu and Eloise Gómez Reyes and State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo. All three pledged to work to expand the tax credit.
The IAF groups were “not at all” confident that the tax credit expansion would end up in the governor’s budget. “Most people told us this was not going to happen,” [One LA Lead Organizer Robert] Hoo said. But after weeks of further organizing, it was included in Gov. Newsom’s June 30 budget.
[Photo Credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images]
COPA Leverages $2 Million for EsperanzaCare - Healthcare for Low-Income Undocumented in Monterey County
What started out in 2015 as a $500,000 pilot from Monterey County became a bonafide $2 million health initiative to cover the uninsured in 2017. Esperanza Care gives basic healthcare to undocumented residents who are not covered by state or federal subsidized insurance, and was renewed by the  Board of Supervisors in the 2020-2021 county budget. Esperanza Care came about thanks to efforts of community groups like the local branch of Community Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA).
COPA leader María Elena Manzo says that Esperanza Care came out of the county trying to fill a major hole in Medi-Cal, and relentless advocacy work:
“We have it because we kept showing up. [The county supervisors] couldn’t ignore us,”
she says. Esperanza Care costs $2 million annually.
The Buzz 07.16.20, Monterey Weekly
As Tax Deadline Approaches, California IAF Celebrates Inclusion of Some Undocumented Families in State Tax Break Program
[Excerpts from various articles]
In initial talks with state legislatures, the organizers and leaders of Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, or COPA were not too sure that the state would budge on who would qualify for California's Earned Income Tax credit, or CalEITC. The tax credit, is intended to give cash back to the poorest working families, but as Covid-19 hit it was clear the threshold to qualify for the credit was not reflective of who the poorest were in the state.
In COPA's eyes, structural change was needed in the form of extending the tax credit to more taxpayers, including undocumented workers. The monetary relief the state circulated to lessen the economic blow of Covid-19 was a one time payment of up to $500 per individual and the deadline to qualify for the aid ended in June 30. This is in to comparison to the Federal CARES Act which provide a one time payment of $1,200.
Faith and community leaders with the California Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) celebrated a victory Tuesday after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a budget that includes an expansion of the California Earned Income Tax Credit (Cal EITC) to undocumented workers with young children.
While not a full expansion to all undocumented workers, the tax credit will help tens of thousands of families with at least one child under the age of 6 who pay their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Some households may receive up to $2,600 each year, depending on their income and family size.
According to IAF, undocumented immigrants represent 10% of the California workforce, and their labor has largely fallen into work deemed “essential” throughout the pandemic — in agriculture, food distribution and service, elder care and child care, among other occupations....
On May 5, more than 1,200 California IAF leaders, along with 10 Bishops and nine state legislators, convened on Zoom to press Newsom to expand the Cal EITC. More than 1,000 faith and community leaders signed on to a letter in support of the expansion, and in the thick of budget negotiations they organized hundreds of leaders to send letters to the governor and to the top leadership of the senate and assembly....
“We commend Gov. Newsom and state legislators for investing in families, especially during a deficit year,” said Rabbi Susan Leider with Congregation Kol Shofar, Marin Organizing Committee. “We know they have faced enormous pressure to cut back, and instead they have paid in. This tax credit is not just a one-time handout, but will help families year after year. Our leaders have been working for months to make sure our essential workers aren’t left behind, and this is a huge step forward.”
[Photo Credit: Erika Mahoney, 90.3 KAZU]
Faith, Community Leaders Praise Tax Break for Undocumented Workers, Good Times by: Johanna Miller [pdf]
California Tax Breaks Extended To Undocumented Families, NPR, KAZU 90.3 [pdf]
California Approves a Tax Credit to More Low-Income Families, Including Undocumented Workers, Monterey County Now Weekly [pdf]