New Report: Preventing an Eviction Epidemic - Delivering Effective Emergency Covid-19 Rental Assistance in California
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, May 25, 2021
New report reveals need to close gaps in SB91 to deliver effective emergency COVID-19 rental assistance & prevent eviction epidemic
COVID-19 has made clear that homes are the foundation of every Californian’s health and safety. With nearly 700,000 California households behind on rent and the statewide eviction moratorium scheduled to expire on June 30th, there is less than one month to pass legislation to close the gaps in the state’s emergency assistance program and eviction protections under SB 91. The Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative, Housing Now!, and PolicyLink released the report Preventing an eviction and debt epidemic: Delivering effective emergency COVID-19 rental assistance in California, today highlighting that many Californians are losing their homes during the pandemic and aid is out of reach for some tenants because of loopholes and barriers in SB 91. These gaps are driving inequities in access to relief as many Californians face longer spells of unemployment, rent debt, and other economic hardships from which it will be difficult to recover. The California legislature has a chance to fix the law and keep people in their homes but must act by June 30th.
The research found numerous problems with the implementation of SB 91, from technological barriers like lack of internet access to tenants’ fears of landlord harassment or retaliation if they did apply for help. To date, of the $4.6 billion in federal funding dedicated to California renters, and $451 million requested, only $20 million has been paid out to date.
Survey respondents reported that many tenants were afraid of applying to the program due to their immigration status, and that many residents are ineligible for aid because they took on debts to credit cards, predatory loans, and loans from family and friends in order to avoid contact with government officials.
The authors of the report conducted the survey because there has been little statewide data collection on the implementation of SB 91 to inform the legislature of challenges and opportunities for ensuring California has a just recovery from the pandemic. In addition to the finding that eviction protections and rent relief save lives, the research also found that: landlords are continuing to evict tenants, despite the moratorium and rent relief; barriers and restrictions are cutting households out of aid that could help them weather the hardship; and many renters face a long recovery, which will be worsened if state legislators do not fix the loopholes that are excluding many households.
Melissa Jones, the Executive Director of the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII), “Our report reveals a looming health crisis. Stable homes and finances are critical to our physical and mental health. Even before the pandemic, California’s housing affordability crisis was putting disproportionate stress on Black, Latinx, and Pacific Islander communities, forcing many into increasingly unhealthy housing situations. Now, these housing conditions and disproportionate representation in the essential workforce have contributed to a 20% higher COVID death rate for Latinx people and 8% higher for Black people, and case rates for Pacific Islanders that are 30% higher than average.” BARHII is the coalition of the 11 Bay area governmental health departments and co-authored the report. “Eviction protections and rent relief save lives and increase well-being,” Ms. Jones added. “Data show that as of last November, California’s emergency eviction protection law had already prevented 186,000 COVID-19 cases and 6,000 deaths. We must strengthen the policies that are working for our region’s families—extending eviction prevention and providing rent relief. We must ensure that families are not required to choose between paying for rent, food, or essential medical care, and prevent a new wave of homelessness and its severe health, personal and societal costs. This report should be the guide for the state lawmakers in making decisions that set the foundation for California to recover from COVID-19 and move forward together.” she noted.
Francisco Dueñas, Executive Director of Housing Now! and report co-author urged the Governor and state legislature to modify the state’s rent relief program requirements, expand its coverage to protect people from long-term debt and credit damage, and extend the current eviction protections until low-wage jobs have recovered to pre-pandemic levels and rental assistance funds have been distributed to all who are eligible. “Our research showed numerous heartbreaking and unnecessary hardships. Families are going without food and medicine because of barriers to accessing the rent relief. We are counting on the legislature to extend the protections and remove the barriers so California families can stay in their homes, feed their families, and not live in fear of eviction. Why are landlords evicting tenants when SB91 was intended to provide rent relief and a moratorium on evictions?”
Sarah Treuhaft, Vice President of Research at PolicyLink, stated that “Today’s rent debt crisis epitomizes the inequality of the pandemic. As we are headed for recovery, many of the low-wage workers hardest hit by job and income losses – overwhelmingly people of color – are saddled with debt and face the threat of eviction. We cannot have an equitable recovery unless their debts are cleared and their housing secured. This is why the moratorium must be extended and the barriers to rent relief removed.”
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