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]
On June 16, Common Ground held a civic academy with over 80 leaders, who learned together about strategies to strengthen testing, tracing, and supportive isolation efforts to contain COVID-19. In the research leading up to their academy, they learned that the county would receive $46.5 million in CARES Act funding throughout the state.
When leaders approached county officials about how these funds would be spent, they were met with surprise — no one seemed to know about the funds.
Common Ground leaders immediately initiated meetings with state legislators, county supervisors, and other officials. They organized house meetings and developed a budget of investments needed to support the needs of Solano county families and workers — including funding for TTSI as well as funds for rental assistance and a promotores outreach program to Spanish-speaking families.
When the budget passed, thanks to the urging of Common Ground leaders, it included double the original proposed amount for rental assistance.
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
Four months into the pandemic, OTOC leaders recognized that housing instability was a serious public health issue. Eviction court had been open since the moratorium issued by Governor Ricketts on evictions expired at the end of May, and even federally-funded housing project tenants would become vulnerable again at the end of July.
OTOC leaders conducted research and found that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a startling 47% of renters in Douglas County were rent-burdened, meaning that they spend over 30% of their monthly income on rent. With 46,557 new initial claims for unemployment in Douglas County filed between 3/21-6/13, OTOC argued that there were more rent burdened residents than ever. A new report on evictions in Omaha clearly demonstrated how minority and low-income neighborhoods in North and South Omaha became hotspots both for COVID-19 infections and evictions.
OTOC worked with the County Commissioners to develop a rental assistance program for those who have been hit especially hard during this pandemic. The Douglas County Board of Commissioners responded July 14th with a finalized plan that allocated $10 million of the $166 million of Douglas County’s CARES Act funds for rental assistance. Influential in this decision was the engagement of leaders from Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) who met with many of the Commissioners to discuss the imminent threat of COVID-19 related evictions and how CARES Act funds could help keep impacted families in their homes.
Said OTOC leader and member of Augustana Lutheran Church, Gloria Austerberry:
"Under normal circumstances, evictions are detrimental for families. In the context of the pandemic, evictions hurt the whole community by removing the ability to practice social isolation safely in their homes...
Preventing them whenever possible protects children especially, and all the institutions like education, social services, and health care that serve them. We are pleased that the Commissioners have prioritized keeping people in their homes and are doing their part to keep our County healthy and safe.”
[Photo Credit: Brendan Sullivan, World-Herald]
Midland Voices: Rental Challenges Are Enormous. Counry Board Can Help Greatly, Omaha World-Herald [pdf]
HOUSTON — The $15 million meant to help Houstonians pay rent is already gone. The money dried up in less than 90 minutes....
The Metropolitan Organization was hosting two application clinics this morning to help families without internet access apply. Large crowds waited in line starting at 5 a.m. Because of the issues with the site many families weren't able to apply before it was shut down.
"They designed a system to give away $15 million quickly and yes it was a success they gave away $15 million, but did it get to the people with the greatest need, I question that," said Joe Higgs, Executive Director of TMO.
As many as 30,000 tried to access the website, an indication of the need for rent relief in the wake of COVID-19, which has led to business shutdowns and skyrocketing unemployment. Housing advocates have said the money does not go far enough in helping renters.
Houston's $15 Million Rental Assistance Program Fills Up In 90 Minutes, Houston Chronicle
Houston's $15 Million In Rent Assistance Runs Out In Just Two Hours, Click To Houston [pdf]
Central TX Interfaith Leverages $10 Million from County in Added Housing Support, Calls on City of Austin to Invest $40M in Rental Relief
On the heels of leveraging $10 Million in housing assistance from Travis County one day prior, Central Texas Interfaith leaders called on the City of Austin to provide at least $40 Milllion in rental assistance for economically distressed families in the COVID-19 crisis.
Leaders noted that while at present, the City of Austin invests $1.2 million for rental assistance, and $7 million overall toward housing assistance, over 50% of low income Austin residents are considered “cost-burdened” (ie. pay over 30% of their income toward housing costs) and 93% of Very Low Income Austin residents are “distressed renters”.
Parish leaders from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic in East Austin argue that “even though evictions have been halted, rent and late fees are piling up, and many residents are receiving warnings from landlords to pay up. Austin did well by creating the RISE fund and some rental assistance programs, but we can, and must do more.”
Group to Austin Leaders: Give $40 Million Cut From Coronavirus Funds to Renters, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Austin Allocating Far Less in Rental Assistance During COVID-19 Crisis Compared to Other Texas Cities, KVUE (Pre-conference) [video] [pdf]
Travis County Approves $10M for Direct Rental and Mortgage Assistance, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Housing Committee Talks Scaling Rental Assistance Program, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Responding to dual threats of deportation and homelessness faced by low-income immigrants, Marin Organizing Committee (MOC) launched a careful campaign to explore how to protect tenants. The campaign culminated in a major victory this week, with leaders persuading the San Rafael City Council to not only mandate mediation between tenants and landlords when rent increases exceed 5% per year, but also to implement 'just cause' for eviction standards. San Rafael is the county seat of Marin County, one of the most expensive places to live in California, and home to 70% of Marin County renters.
Landlords and representatives from the California Apartment Association appeared in force to testify in opposition, but MOC leaders had been laying the groundwork for two years. In response to pressure from MOC leaders in 2017, the Marin Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to support a mandatory mediation program for renters, which would apply only to unincorporated areas of the County (about 8,300 renters). In 2018, the Marin Board of Supervisors passed a 'just cause' for eviction ordinance protecting tenants from sudden eviction -- again, only in unincorporated areas of Marin County. Beyond negotiating for these protections, MOC shepherded a deal between Canal neighborhood tenants and a landlord who had initially imposed a 45% rent hike over 2 months, successfully increasing the time frame to 16 months.
In response to passage of the ordinances, leader Meredith Parnell declared, "MOC is pleased that the San Rafael City Council is moving forward with these small steps to protect renters...we look forward to working with the city to ensure there is a well-resourced and multilingual community education and outreach campaign to explain these new ordinances to landlords and tenants alike.”
[Photo Credit: Adrian Rodriguez, Marin Independent Journal (top); Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative (bottom)]
San Rafael City Council Approves Renter Protections, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Voice: Protecting San Rafael Tenants Helps Prevent Homelessness, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Supervisors Improve Renter Protection With 'Just Cause' Ordinance, Marin Independent Journal [pdf] (2018)
San Rafael Canal Area Landlords, Tenants Strike Deal on Rent Hikes, Marin Independent Journal (2018)
MOC Wins Significant Step on Renter Protection, West / Southwest IAF (2017)
After careful agitation by leaders of Marin Organizing Committee, the Marin County Board of Supervisors passed a 'Just Cause for Evictions' Ordinance with a unanimous vote. Leaders [in photo above] filled the County chambers in support of the ordinance which is expected to protect approximately 3,400 renters currently without protection from arbitrary eviction in Marin.
In its coverage of the meeting, and the multi-year fight, Marin Independent Journal called Marin Organizing Committee "the leading voice calling for action to address the housing crisis."
The Just Cause Ordinance was carefully crafted to provide protection to tenants without restricting landlords from acting to remove problem occupants. Evictions are permitted when tenants skip out on rent, breach rental contracts and or pose other problems.
While the ordinance is limited to protecting only tenants in unincorporated Marin, leaders are hopeful that the data collection incorporated in the ordinance will establish important evidence about rental conditions across the County.
Marin Supervisors Improve Renter Protection With 'Just Cause' Ordinance, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Supervisors Support 'Just Cause' Rule for Evictions, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
For the second time in 2018, Marin Organizing Committee leaders stood on the front lines of the fight against astronomical rent increases that put in jeopardy the ability of Canal tenants to afford to stay in their homes. In August, right before the start of the school year, tenants of a different apartment complex received notice of a 40% increase in rent. MOC worked on a political strategy, including a press conference/rally with clergy and school district speakers and meetings with the tenants and public officials, that pressured the landlords into negotiating a better deal for the tenants. . In addition, MOC led the effort to establish, in Marin County territory as a first step, a ‘Just Cause Ordinance' that requires landlords to have a just cause for eviction. While this ordinance does not apply to rental housing in cities, the ordinance does include, for the first time, tracking of landlord activity across all Marin County.
In December, tenants at a second apartment complex in the Canal received notice of a 65% increase in rent to begin on February 1, 2019, as well as some eviction notices. In response, Marin Organizing Committee leaders took matters to San Rafael City Council and asked the City to implement a ‘just cause’ ordinance which would require the landlord to have a justified cause for eviction similar to that approved by the Marin County Board of Supervisors earlier in the fall. Furthermore, MOC leaders urged the City to provide county mediation between landlords and tenants when rent is increased more than 5% a year. At the City Council meeting, Mayor Gary Phillips publicly stated that the city would consider implementing both practices in upcoming months, and directed the City Attorney to research whether the City Council could enact an emergency moratorium on rent increases and evictions in the meantime.
San Rafael Activists Rally Against Canal 65% Rent Hike, Marin Independent Journal
Despite fear of eviction, forty tenants in San Rafael, CA worked with Marin Organizing Committee (MOC) and Marin Legal Aid to fight back against a 40% rent increase that puts most of their families at risk of homelessness or displacement. After a change in ownership, rent was increased by $700 a month with only 60 days notice, from $1,900 to $2,700 by September 1st. Tenant and community leaders argued that the rapid rent hike would leave families homeless and deprive 60 schoolchildren from stability in their home lives and education.
Marin Organizing Committee called upon the landlord to negotiate with the tenants and called upon the City of San Rafael and the County of Marin to put stronger renter protections in place. San Rafael City Mayor Gary Phillips, Marin County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, and San Rafael School Superintendent Mike Watenpaugh pledged support moving forward. MOC ultimately shepherded a negotiated deal in which the rent increase would be phased in over 16 months (by 2020).
Having successfully advocated for a Mandatory Mediation Ordinance in 2017, MOC is now pushing for passage of a 'Just Cause' Eviction ordinance which would establish a set of criteria for eviction and provide stronger protections for tenants in a County with historically weak recourse for renters. Leaders packed a Marin County Board of Supervisors workshop to support such an ordinance, including clergy, tenants, and apartment owners who testified that such an ordinance would not hurt landlords operating in good faith. The Board decided to move forward, directing County staff to prepare options for consideration at an upcoming meeting.
[Photo Credit: James Cacciatore, Marin Independent Journal]
Marin Supervisors Want to Move Ahead with 'Just Cause' Ordinance, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Faith Community Rallies Behind Families Facing Huge Rent Increase, Catholic San Francisco [pdf]
San Rafael Canal Landlords, Tenants Strike Deal on Rent Hikes, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
George Russell: Troubled Waters in San Rafael's Canal, Marin Independent Journal [jpg]