(TNS) — Fabian Ramirez needs more time to catch up on the rent he couldn’t pay when the coronavirus outbreak put him out of work last spring. He’s in the hole by more than $5,000 — a burden for a laborer with a family to feed.
“It’s a lot,” said Ramirez of Sacramento, who took home about $2,200 a month from his work before the outbreak and had little savings.
His options depend in part on whether Gov. Gavin Newsom and California state lawmakers can reach a deal over the next week to extend renter protections that expire Sept. 2. If they can’t make an agreement, up to 4 million Californians are believed to be in jeopardy of eviction because of unpaid rent.
“If we don’t change state law, we will see a wave of evictions which would be catastrophic for homelessness and COVID-19 spread,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, who is pushing for an eviction moratorium. “Without a new state law, tenants will get evicted and landlords will not get the rent they’re owed.” Chiu is behind the only rent-relief plan moving forward in the Legislature today. Assembly Bill 1436 would prohibit evictions until 90 days after Newsom lifts the state’s coronavirus emergency or April 1, 2021, whichever comes first. It would give tenants a year to make up unpaid rent.
Homeowners and small building landlords could also request nearly a year of forbearance on their mortgage under the legislation, while property owners of larger buildings of five units or more would qualify for six months of relief.
Other options have faded, including a plan from Senate Democrats that would have allowed renters 10 years to make up late payments.
The proposals were developed to follow an eviction ban the state Judicial Council enforced since April. Eviction proceedings can resume on Sept. 2, unless Newsom signs a new law.
The federal government has not stepped in since its coronavirus eviction ban expired at the end of July, either. President Donald Trump signed a memorandum this month urging federal housing agencies to do what they could to keep people in their homes, but it fell short of a mandate to suspend evictions and foreclosures.
Congress could act when it returns to Washington, D.C., in September. Democrats in charge of the House of Representatives signaled they want to impose an eviction ban. Republicans leading the Senate have not endorsed that proposal.
“There’s no leadership from the White House or the Senate on this,” said Matt Schwartz, president and CEO of California Housing Partnership, an affordable housing advocacy and research organization.
That means renters’ hopes depend on the proposal California lawmakers are developing with Newsom, which would have to pass the Legislature with a two-thirds majority vote to take effect by next month.
Landlords Don’t Want To Be A Safety Net
Rental and business associations have argued against the bill, saying landlords and banks shouldn’t be forced to become a safety net in the public health crisis.
“Rental housing owners have been fronting the bills on behalf of renters with no assistance – an unsustainable model that will reduce the number of rental housing available in the state,” said Jack Schwartz, legislative chair for the California Rental Housing Association. “The legislation, as currently drafted, will damage the rental housing industry in the long term for renters, and discourage construction of more rental housing in the future.”
But Newsom and Democrats say they’re moving forward. Amendments to the plan could be released over the next few days.
Newsom said on Monday that his team was actively engaged in “dynamic” conversations with stakeholders.
“We are making real progress in that space,” Newsom said.
California had a housing crisis before the coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic exacerbated the housing crunch by disproportionately cutting employment for working-class households.
The state’s unemployment rate surged to 14.9 percent by June, with 903,000 renter households having experienced a job loss during COVID-19, according to a recent study from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley.
High Rent, With Kids
About half, 422,000, of those households represent families with children, and 411,000 were already ‘rent-burdened,’ or paying more than a third of their income on housing.
Count Ramirez, the Sacramento renter, among them. The solar panel company he works for shut down its operations in March, he said. He’s been back to work since June, but not at full-time hours.
Ramirez, 46, speaking through a translator in Spanish, said he now works around 60 hours every two weeks, an uptick from a slow spring and summer. But it’s not enough to get caught up on the $1,059 gone unpaid each month in rent, he said.
Now, his priority is figuring out a payment plan with his landlord so he can cut down the debt owed.
For families like Ramirez’s, the rent relief proposal in the Legislature won’t alleviate the economic pain of unemployment or hours cut.
David Garcia,w policy director for the Terner Center, said AB 1436 is only a Band-Aid fix. He said families who lost months of wages will need a boost in unemployment insurance, similar to the supplemental $600 weekly benefit the federal government provided from March until the end of July.
“I think what we’ve been seeing is that the boost in unemployment insurance has helped keep many households in their homes,” Garcia said. “Absence an extension of that, we are really at risk of seeing a wave of evictions.”
©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.