Midpeninsula Post

Assembly bill offers potential solution for hundreds of Mtn. View households at risk of eviction

Mountain View city hall in June 2021. (Arya Nasikkar)

For the past two years, California’s eviction moratorium has protected thousands of renters from being evicted through pandemic-driven financial hardship. But that all changes on April 1, when the program is set to expire.

Approximately 500 households in Mountain View are at risk of eviction; over 900 households in the city have applied for rent relief from the state, but more than half of them have yet to receive the money, according to Mayor Lucas Ramirez.

The eviction moratorium currently prevents landlords from evicting these tenants who are behind on rent, but come April, renters can be evicted even if they’ve applied for the rent relief program.

“Everybody has been in good faith participating in the program, expecting to get the rent relief,” Ramirez said. “So you may have applied several months ago, but the state may not have been able to disperse the funding. And so now you’re thinking ‘Okay, I’m good because they promised to pay all that rent debt, but [in reality] now I can get evicted on April 1, simply because the state hasn’t been able to send out that rent relief check.’”

Multiple Mountain View residents expressed their concerns and encouraged the city council to take action at Tuesday’s council meeting, citing how the pandemic has caused employers to go out of business and forced residents to take on multiple shifts just to afford their live-in expenses.

But there might be a solution. Assembly Bill 2179 — announced Thursday by Assemblymember Tim Grayson, and currently making its way through the state legislature — would extend the eviction moratorium for households who have applied for rent relief but have yet to receive the funding.

“If you are still waiting on your rent relief and you apply before the 31st of this month, you cannot be evicted for that rent until June 30,” said Emily Ramos, preservation and protection associate at SV@Home and rental housing committee member.

“That’s important, because now, those 500 plus families, if the bill is approved into legislature and signed into law by the governor, … won’t have to worry about the rent debt that they haven’t been able to pay over the past several months or even a couple of years,” Ramirez said.

The state legislature will vote on AB-2179 on March 31, the last day before the eviction moratorium expires.

While city council and staff aren’t involved in the legislation process, they’re able to voice their support; Ramirez said he signed a letter of support on Friday.

If the bill is passed, Ramirez said he suspects it would immediately go into effect without requiring further local legislation, though it depends on the language used in the bill.

“In fact, in previous state eviction moratorium legislation, the state law has preempted local eviction moratoriums from being considered,” Ramirez said.

EVICTION THROUGH THE PANDEMIC

Early in the pandemic, the City of Mountain View, then Santa Clara County, approved their own eviction moratoriums, designed to help residents remain housed throughout the pandemic — since so many residents were facing pandemic-related income loss and were unable to pay rent.

A statewide eviction moratorium was approved shortly after and has since been extended on multiple occasions.

“But the state recognizes that, after a period of time, we would have to transition into a recovery and we’re not going to be able to sustain an eviction moratorium indefinitely,” Ramirez said.

He noted that landlords too require money: for maintenance, staff, property taxes and other costs associated with operating and maintaining the property.

Up until Sept. 30, 2021, landlords were unable to evict tenants for non-payment under any circumstances, as per the state’s eviction moratorium. From October to the end of March, though, any tenant who failed to pay their rent would receive a “three day notice,” per usual, according to Ramos.

But if the court proceeded to grant an unlawful detainer — an order that would allow a sheriff to remove a person from their home — the individual could show proof of their rent relief application and prevent being evicted.

California’s rent relief program — called Housing is Key — allows both renters and landlords to secure funding at the state and federal level, with the state paying for any rent debt that tenants were unable to pay because of the pandemic. The application deadline for the program is March 31.

“In the interim, the eviction moratorium would be sustained for a few months in order to make sure that people could apply for the program and the rent relief could be distributed,” Ramirez said.

CITY SUPPORT

Ramirez said he recommends any concerned residents to visit Mountain View’s eviction help center, which connects tenants and landlords with support services; Ramos describes it as a “one stop shop,” complete with legal and financial assistance. The center is open on a walk-in basis for extended hours, from 10 am to 5 pm, from March 29 to 31.

As of February, the center has helped 287 households file for rent relief and provided legal assistance to 96 households, according to Chief Communications Officer Lenka Wright.

“When the COVID pandemic happened, and we had moratoriums, and rent relief assistance, we knew that there needed to be a lot of assistance to access those services,” Ramos said.

The help center arose from a series of “pop-ups” hosted by the city for rent relief assistance, after being allocated funding by the city and Rental Housing Committee. This, in conjunction with partnering with the Community Services Agency of Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, allowed the center to provide legal and financial assistance.

The center also has a contract with Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto and the Stanford Law Clinic, which help guide individuals through the legal system — including navigating unlawful detainers, which Ramos said is “probably the most important thing that they do.”

“If you see how those documents look, it’s daunting if you don’t have a legal background,” Ramos said.

“Most people, they’ll come in with some kind of eviction notice, and their first question is, ‘Is this allowed?’ And they’re able to answer those kinds of questions,” Ramos said.

So what should individuals faced with eviction do?

“The first thing is, don’t leave,” said Ramos. “Don’t leave your home, even if you get that notice, because there are people to help you.”

Ramos said individuals should ensure that they’ve applied for rent relief before the March 31 deadline and paid for their April rent, if possible — making sure to designate it as April rent.

If faced with an eviction notice, she recommended seeking legal assistance by visiting the help center or contacting the organizations its partnered with directly.

“This week is going to be crazy, because we’re going to try to get as many people to apply before the end of this month if they’re eligible,” Ramos said. “We know that this week is just going to be ‘We have one singular focus in protecting as many people as we can right now.’”

“Once we learn what happens at the state level, we’ll share with the community as best as we’re able to, so people know ‘Hey, you know, you are still protected April 1, even if you haven’t gotten your rent relief yet,’” Ramirez said.

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