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Cruel and Pointless: Legislation that Would Criminalize Homelessness

For the second time in two years, a bill that would criminalize unhoused community members is pending before the California Legislature. SB 1011, authored by Senator Brian Jones (R-San Diego), is a shell game masquerading as a solution. It isn’t designed to reduce the number of unhoused people, only to make them disappear from view. To do this, it proposes banishing them from most public spaces and threatening those with nowhere to go with criminal penalties. Those penalties, to be levied at the discretion of district attorneys, include charging vulnerable individuals with either a misdemeanor punishable with up to one year in jail, on issue them a non-criminal citation like a parking ticket. But make no mistake; saddling our unhoused neighbors with fines and fees is the worst possible approach to ending this crisis.

SB 1011 is a more draconian version of a SB 31 authored by the same senator. (That legislation failed last year after meeting opposition from us and our coalition partners.)  SB 1011 would prohibit a person from activities such as sitting, lying, sleeping, or placing personal property upon a street or sidewalk if a homeless shelter is available. The bill would also prohibit these activities within 500 feet of a school or major transit stop. The previous bill SB 31, has similar prohibitions but within 1000 feet of a sensitive area. (Sensitive areas were defined as a school, daycare center, park, or library.) So, SB 1011 cuts the distance in half, and it expands the categories of prohibited spaces. Here’s what else it does, it poses a specific threat to Black Californians already suffering due to the state’s draconian and racially imbalanced policing laws and practices.

There is also a political difference.  SB 1011 has garnered a number of Democratic co-sponsors, allowing it to be touted as a bi-partisan bill. This isn’t surprising. Anti-homeless sentiment has reached a fever pitch in California. Mayors of even historically liberal cities like San Francisco and Gov. Gavin Newsom  are tilting to the right, holding press conferences to call for Supreme Court intervention and criticizing judicial rulings that protect the rights of unhoused people and even threatening to publish judges’ phone numbers.

For context, these inhumane rhetoric and policies are surging alongside hyperbolic discourse about increased criminality supposedly plaguing our cities. The data, however, tells a different story. For example, violent crime declined 13% in 2013 according to the FBI. Similarly, retail theft appears to be down nationally.

But these policies are not just inhumaine. They are anti-Black.

This shift toward punitive housing policies is occurring at a socio-political moment when programs for racial justice are under attack. A drive for colorblindness, and of turning a blind eye to the racialized impact of these policy decisions, is the issue of the day.

California, the big blue progressive beacon of America, is leading the nation, not with effective policy solutions but rather with disproven policy proposals, steeped in anti-Blackness.

How do we know?

The data tells the tale. Black Californians are disproportionately impacted by houselessness and all of the on-ramps to houselessness: rental burden, evictions, and systems contact, to name a few. According to the Benioff Homeless and Housing Initiative, Black Californians make up 7 percent of the population but “represent more than a quarter of the state’s homeless population.” In addition, 70 percent of unsheltered people experiencing houselessness report a history of incarceration. The intersections between the criminal legal system and houseless are apparent from all available data.

For example, the 2024 Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board report shows that traffic stops continue to be racially driven. Specifically, the data shows that “Black individuals were stopped 131.5 percent more frequently than expected given their proportion of the population.” Moreover, Black people are searched at a rate of 1.66 times greater than White people, despite the fact the contraband is found on Black and Hispanic people less and no action is taken after a stop and search more often.

The disparities in police and systems contact don’t stop there. A report by the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights in San Francisco analyzed non-traffic stops and found that “among people who were issued a citation under local codes as a result of non-traffic stops, Black adults were up to 9.7 times more likely to receive citations than white adults.” It also found that Black men are incarcerated at a rate nearly 5 times their share of the male population California. Black women, it determined, are incarcerated at a rate “more than 4 times higher than their share of all women in California.”

It is this population, over-policed, over-incarcerated, forcibly impoverished by the unequal application law and often pushed into homelessness, that stands to suffer the most from SB1011.

Of course, none of this is unknown to the state. I was lucky enough to testify before the state’s Reparations Task Force on the issues of homelessness and gentrification highlighting this issue. This first-in-the-nation task force documented, with specificity, the myriad deliberate harms and policy decisions that have placed Black Californians in economic and social jeopardy. These include antebellum-era vagrancy laws that SB 1011 so resembles. When the work of the task force ended in 2023, its final report included various recommendations for repairing these harms. Some of these recommendations have taken the form of bills authored by Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena). (Bradford is one of the state senators who, as a member of the Senate Public Safety committee, will vote on whether to criminalize homelessness).

Those bills include proposals to ease the housing cost burdens and homeownership gaps that continue to systematically disadvantage Black Californians. While these proposals seek to address the current plight of Black Californians, SB 1011 does the opposite. It seeks to punish the people who are victims of our housing crisis.

We must face the reality that houselessness is a distinctly racialized problem. It requires solutions that actually consider those most severely impacted.

Members of the Senate Public Safety Committee, including Senator Bradford, have an opportunity to set the tone for how California will move forward by ensuring that SB 1011 does not progress.

It is imperative that they choose morality, humanity and common sense over political expediency.

 

Fact check: Do all San Diego housing agencies see state tenant protection laws as irrelevant?

February 16, 2024

During a public meeting last November, a top elected official asked the San Diego Housing Commission to explain the findings of an inewsource investigation.

The Housing Commission, which is responsible for managing roughly $300 million in federal Section 8 housing vouchers to help low-income tenants pay rent, is required to ensure rent increases are reasonable before using taxpayer money to pay for them. But officials were approving rent hikes without checking if they exceed the cap in state law, the investigation revealed.

Jeff Davis, the Commission’s then-interim CEO, told elected leaders in that meeting the agency doesn’t think the state’s law protects voucher holders. He said all six public housing agencies in San Diego County, as well as “many, many other California housing authorities,” have been operating the same way.

But that’s not accurate.

Officials with three other public housing agencies — in Carlsbad, Encinitas and National City — say they have been checking to ensure landlords are following the state’s law, the California Tenant Protection Act, which took effect in 2020. The law sets a 10% maximum cap on rent increases within a 12-month period. Some properties are exempt, such as mobile homes, new developments and some single-family homes.

When asked by inewsource, officials with all three agencies said they review the housing characteristics each time a property owner wants to raise the rent on a tenant with a Section 8 voucher. Nonexempt properties are held to the state’s 10% maximum cap, they said.

Carlos Aguirre, director of the National City Housing Authority, said the Tenant Protection Act is a tool to keep rents reasonable. Not complying impacts the overall housing market as well as the agency’s ability to help low-income tenants pay rent.

“There’s an upward pressure on rents,” Aguirre said, adding that landlords are in the market of making a return on their investment. “So that’s a tool for us to make sure that our rents are not increasing to a point where there’s not even a market for Section 8 vouchers in National City.”

Officials with the San Diego Housing Commission, which serves 17,000 families as the region’s largest public housing agency, have viewed the law differently.

They have said they don’t have the authority to limit rent increases for tenants receiving federal assistance. Meanwhile, a pending lawsuit aims to force the agency’s compliance with state law and claw back any public money that was illegally paid to private landlords. The Housing Commission has since announced plans to cap rent hikes for voucher holders, instead billing it as a change in agency policy. But they say that change can’t take effect without approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the Section 8 program.

Alternatively, officials in Carlsbad and National City started enforcing the law without approval from HUD. Officials in Oceanside and the county have also recently taken the same steps without HUD approval. inewsource is awaiting Encinitas’ response to the same question.

“Most housing authorities across the state at this point are complying” with state law, said Madeline Howard, a senior attorney with Western Center on Law and Poverty. “So, to the extent that San Diego is saying everybody else is doing a bad job, that’s not true.”

Residential and commercial buildings in National City are shown on, Feb. 14, 2024. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

‘That affects the local market.’

Public housing agencies are responsible for managing the federal Section 8 program — one of the most significant safety nets for low-income residents anywhere in the U.S. — and are required to ensure rent increases are in line with the market and adhere to applicable laws.

But when the California Tenant Protection Act took effect in 2020, it set off a yearslong legal debate about whether those state protections extend to federal voucher holders.

Conflicting interpretations of law in state government

In an attempt to settle the debate last summer, California Attorney General Rob Bonta sent a letter to every public housing agency in the state. He said the law clearly protects voucher holders and warned officials to stop approving unlawful rent increases on low-income families the federal program was intended to protect.

Aguirre, the director in National City, said he had no doubt that the Tenant Protection Act applies to Section 8 voucher holders. National City’s housing agency has taken that stance since the law took effect in 2020.

The agency even has a form letter it sends property owners to remind them of the law, informing them of notice requirements and outlining the state’s 10% cap on increases.

“It’s the law,” he said. “They have to abide by it.”

Comparing the cities

The housing authorities in Carlsbad, Encinitas and National City are much smaller, serving far fewer low-income families — about 1,700 combined, a fraction compared to the 17,000 families served in San Diego.

Some properties are exempt from state law, such as mobile homes, new developments and some single-family homes. But in late 2022, National City passed an ordinance extending the state’s cap to include mobile home parks, following complaints from residents.

The National City Housing Authority uses roughly $13 million every year in Section 8 housing vouchers to help about 1,100 low-income families pay rent. Aguirre said almost every landlord in the program asks to raise the rent every year, and six people are tasked with reviewing those requests.

And when a request comes in, Aguirre said his team checks every time whether a property is exempt to ensure compliance with state law before approving it.

“Every Section 8 housing specialist (in National City) is well aware of those exemptions, and our Section 8 manager as well,” Aguirre said, adding that following the law plays an important role in slowing the rise in rent. “If we didn’t call attention to it, then we have this upward pressure that affects the local market.”

Officials in Carlsbad say they have taken the same approach — at least since late 2021, when the agency’s current leadership took over, said Christian Gutierrez, housing services manager.

Carlsbad Village is shown on Feb. 14, 2024. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource) Credit: Zoë Meyers/inewsource

Carlsbad’s housing authority is about half the size of National City’s, serving roughly 500 low-income households with about $8 million to spend every year in federal vouchers. Two people are responsible for reviewing rent increase requests, Gutierrez said.

Any time a landlord wants to raise the rent, officials start by checking the math on any increases over the past 12 months. They also check housing characteristics to see if the property is exempt only if the proposed increase exceeds the state’s 10% cap, Gutierrez said.

Housing officials in Encinitas didn’t start checking compliance until after they received Bonta’s letter last June, according to city spokesperson Lois Yum.

The Encinitas Housing Authority gives out about $1.3 million every year in federal housing vouchers to help roughly 100 households pay rent.

Between January 2020 and November 2023, records show nearly one out of every 12 rent increases for Section 8 voucher holders living in Encinitas exceeded the state’s cap. A couple increases were as high as 35%.

But officials said they took immediate steps to ensure compliance after Bonta’s letter, Yum said. They developed a tool to check the percentage for each increase and started checking housing characteristics to see if the property was exempt.

And for all of the increases that already exceeded the state’s cap, Yum said they have since been adjusted to bring everyone in compliance.

San Diego County starts denying illegal rent increases following inewsource report.

Following an inewsource investigation, the second largest public housing agency in the region says it is, for the first time ever, checking to ensure thousands of low-income tenants have the same protections from excessive rent increases as other California renters.

The San Diego County Housing Authority is now rejecting requests by landlords to raise rent on tenants with a Section 8 housing voucher beyond the state’s 10% maximum cap. The county made the change Dec. 1 to comply with the Tenant Protection Act, a state law that took effect in 2020.

The change, according to the county, was a response to a letter California Attorney General Rob Bonta sent all 96 housing agencies in California last summer. The letter urged officials to stop approving unlawful rent increases on low-income families the federal program was intended to protect.

But the county’s change also came three weeks after an inewsource investigation revealed another agency — the San Diego Housing Commission — has been approving rent hikes for city residents without checking if they exceed the cap in state law. A pending lawsuit filed in November also asks a judge to compel the city’s housing agency to claw back all public funds illegally paid to private landlords.

Officials with the city’s Housing Commission, which serves 17,000 families as the region’s largest public housing agency, contend that the state’s law doesn’t apply to the federal program. Despite taking that stance, officials have since announced plans to cap rent hikes for voucher holders, instead billing it as a change in agency policy. But they say that change can’t take effect without approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which pays for the Section 8 program.


For perspective:

An individual who lives alone and earns $77,200 or less per year is considered low-income in San Diego. Qualifying residents face up to 15 years on a waitlist for federal housing assistance.


Alternatively, the county changed its policy without approval from HUD. That’s telling, according to an advocacy group suing the city to make the same changes.

“The county took a step in the right direction, which shows the city’s claim about needing HUD approval rings hollow,” said Francine Maxwell, chair of Black Men and Women United San Diego. “There is no reason the city can’t comply with the law.”

Public housing agencies are responsible for managing the federal Section 8 program — one of the most significant safety nets for low-income residents anywhere in the U.S. — and are required to ensure rent increases are reasonable before using taxpayer money to pay for it.

But when the California Tenant Protection Act took effect in 2020, it set off a yearslong legal debate about whether those state protections extend to federal voucher holders.

Conflicting interpretations of law in state government

At the time, officials with the county’s housing authority did not change any policies to check rent increases for compliance and instead told property owners to consult with an attorney to see if the law applies to their units, a county spokesperson said. Tenants who had questions about a rent increase were told to seek help from the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, the largest poverty law firm in San Diego County.

In June, more than three years after the law took effect, Bonta issued his letter insisting that Section 8 voucher holders are protected by state law and urging officials to scrutinize rent increases before approving them for families who can least afford it.

inewsource obtained 107 rent increases the County Housing Authority approved during one week last October. Only 40 showed the original rent and the request, both of which are needed to calculate the increase, and of those, four exceeded the state’s cap.

It’s just a small sample among several thousand requests every year, a snapshot in time, and there’s no way for the public to know whether the rent increases are legal without more data and oversight. It’s possible some of the increases discovered went to properties that are exempt under the Tenant Protection Act, such as mobile homes, new developments and some single-family homes.

The county’s decision to start capping increases at levels set by state law could impact nearly 11,000 families throughout the region who rely on the federal safety net program to pay rent, saving untold millions of dollars in taxpayer money every year.

But some say the county’s move doesn’t go far enough because the agency doesn’t review housing characteristics to determine compliance — that’s data a county spokesperson said the agency doesn’t collect.

County officials instead are relying on a landlord’s word that they have read and understand state law and that their property is exempt. For all other properties, a spokesperson said staff will do the math on rent increase requests and hold those to the 10% cap.

That’s problematic, said Madeline Howard, a senior attorney with Western Center on Law and Poverty, where she works for tenants’ rights and people experiencing homelessness.

“Obviously a landlord could be free to just assert that they’re not covered when they in fact are,” Howard said.

Property owners are already violating the Tenant Protection Act, said Gil Vera, directing attorney with the Legal Aid Society of San Diego.

“It’s not always like a nefarious reason that they’re trying to get around the rent control, but it’s sometimes that they don’t know, especially for smaller landlords,” he said. “So, that is a concern, that someone would self-certify that (the law) doesn’t apply when it does.”

 

Western Center’s 2024 Legislative Agenda

Western Center’s 2024 Legislative Agenda

February 28, 2024
Following is a list of bills to help secure housing, healthcare, and a strong safety net for low-income Californians that will be sponsored or co-sponsored by Western Center on Law & Poverty during the 2024 legislative session.

Healthcare

AB 2297 (Friedman): Medical Debt Protection
This bill would modernize the Hospital Fair Pricing Act by prohibiting the use of home liens to collect unpaid medical bills from financially eligible patients, clarifying hospitals must review financial assistance eligibility at any time, clarifying Medi-Cal and Medicare cost sharing amounts can be deducted under financial assistance policies, defining charity care as free care, and other changes.
(Co-sponsored with Bet Tzedek)
AB 2297 Fact Sheet

AB 2319 (Wilson, Weber): Reducing Black Maternal Mortality through Implicit Bias Training
This bill would reduce the disproportionate maternal mortality rate of Black women and other pregnant persons of color by ensuring successful implementation of the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act of 2019 (SB 464 (Mitchell)) by clarifying which facilities are mandated to administer anti-bias trainings, confers enforcement powers to CDPH and the Attorney General, establishes administrative penalties for noncompliant facilities and requires compliance data to be posted online.
(Co-sponsored with Attorney General Rob Bonta, Black Women for Wellness Action Project, Reproductive Freedom for All California, California Nurse-Midwives Association and the California Black Women’s Collective)
AB 2319 Fact Sheet

AB 2753 (Ortega): Rehabilitative and Habilitative Services: Durable Medical Equipment and Services
This bill would clarify that durable medical equipment is a covered essential health benefit in California-regulated health plans and policies when prescribed by a doctor for rehabilitative or habilitative purposes. The bill would also remove limitations such as annual caps on durable medical equipment coverage.
(Co-sponsored with National Health Law Program)
AB 2753 Fact Sheet

AB 2956 (Boerner): Protecting Medi-Cal Coverage for Californians
This bill would allow people to keep their Medi-Cal coverage for a full 12 months, regardless of changes in their income and would direct California to seek federal approval, when necessary, to make permanent the federal Medi-Cal flexibilities to reduce and remedy procedural terminations, simplify income verification requirements, increase automatic Medi-Cal renewals, and improve program outreach and customer service. (Co-sponsored with The Children’s Partnership and Latino Coalition for a Healthy California)
AB 2956 Fact Sheet

AB 3170 (Ortega): Drug Testing of Pregnant People
This bill will be amended to indicate that any drug or alcohol test or screen performed by the staff or contractor of a health care institution on a pregnant or perinatal person or newborn, or any information on drug or alcohol use in the pregnant or perinatal person or newborn’s medical records, shall not be admitted in any criminal or civil proceeding, including juvenile dependency proceedings, over the objection of the person who was tested.

SB 1289 (Roth): County Call Center Oversight and Reporting
This bill would remedy the barriers at county call centers by directing the promulgation of regulations that set basic standards for things like wait times and requiring DHCS to publish online call center data from all 58 counties.
(Co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)

Housing

AB 653 (Reyes): Increasing Voucher Utilization
This bill would create a competitive grant program for public housing authorities (PHAs) to fund housing navigation services, landlord incentives, and deposit resources to increase lease-up success rates for tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers. This bill would require PHAs to annually report their success rate and require those with a success rate below 60% to adopt certain policies to increase housing choice and work with HCD to analyze and improve their policies.
(Co-sponsored with Housing California, Corporation for Supportive Housing, United Ways of California, and the National Housing Law Project).

AB 846 (Bonta): Low-income housing Credit.
This bill would establish anti-price gouging protections for rent in properties funded by the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and Public Advocates)

AB 2304 (Lee): Masking Limited Civil Unlawful Detainer Cases
This bill will close the gaps in the state eviction masking laws and ensure that all tenants are protected as originally intended.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation).

AB 2347 (Kalra): Protecting Tenant Due Process Rights
This bill would preserve the due process rights of tenants by preventing evictions when a tenant has not been properly served.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation).

ACA 10 (Haney): Housing is a Human Right
ACA 10 will recognize that every Californian has the fundamental human right to adequate housing on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis. Should the measure pass in the legislature, California voters will have the opportunity to vote to add this right to the state’s constitution, creating an obligation on the part of state and local governments to take meaningful action to fully realize the right.
(Co-sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action, End Poverty in California (EPIC), Housing Now, ACLU California Action, Abundant Housing LA, National Homelessness Law Center, and PowerCA Action)

Public Benefits and Access to Justice

AB 274 (Bryan): CalWORKs: CalFresh: Eligibility: Income Exclusions
This bill would exempt any grant, award, scholarship, loan, or fellowship benefit provided to any assistance unit member for educational purposes from consideration as income or resources for purposes of determining CalWORKs eligibility or grant amounts. The bill would also require the State Department of Social Services to exercise a federal option to exclude, for purposes of calculating a household’s income under CalFresh, any type of income that the department excludes when determining eligibility or benefits for CalWORKs.

AB 1815 (Weber): Discrimination: Hairstyles: Amateur Sports Organizations
This bill expands upon the CROWN act by prohibiting an amateur sports club or organization from discriminating against any person based on race, inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles in the operation, conduct, or administration of a youth or amateur sports competition, training, camp, or club.
AB 1815 Fact Sheet

AB 3170 (Ortega): Drug Testing of Pregnant People
This bill will be amended to indicate that any drug or alcohol test or screen performed by the staff or contractor of a health care institution on a pregnant or perinatal person or newborn, or any information on drug or alcohol use in the pregnant or perinatal person or newborn’s medical records, shall not be admitted in any criminal or civil proceeding, including juvenile dependency proceedings, over the objection of the person who was tested.

SB 1107 (Durazo): Public Social Services: County Departments: Mail Programs
This bill would require a county human services agency that administers public benefits to develop and implement a program to ensure that, at a minimum, homeless residents of a county can pick up and receive government-related mail addressed to the resident at a place designated by the agency.

Contact our Sacramento Advocates: For more information about Western Center on Law & Poverty and our advocacy priorities, go to www.wclp.org.

Brandon Greene, Director of Policy Advocacy
[email protected]
916-282-5112

Health
Linda Nguy
[email protected]
916-282-5117

Sandra O. Poole
[email protected]
916-282-5141

Housing
Cynthia Castillo
[email protected]
916-282-5103

Tina Rosales
[email protected]
916-282-5118

Public Benefits and Access to Justice
Christopher Sanchez
[email protected]
916-282-5104

Rebecca Gonzales
[email protected]
916-282-5119

Tens of thousands still waiting as California COVID rent relief program runs low on cash

In March 2021, the Los Angeles film industry was just beginning to roar back to life after a prolonged COVID-induced slump, but Michael Addis, a freelance filmmaker, was still deep in the hole. For more than a year he’d been racking up IOUs to his landlord and the tab stood at $43,792.

So Addis turned to an emergency state program designed to help people like him pay down rental debt accumulated during the pandemic.

Later, in the summer of 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom himself had touted the program, Housing Is Key, as the largest of its kind in the nation. “We’re laser-focused on getting this assistance out the door as quickly as possible,” he said at the time.

Addis heard back 20 months after he applied.

On June 5, 2023 — his 61st birthday — he received an email, which he shared with CalMatters, notifying him that a payment had been approved in full.

But by then it was too late. Addis had already downsized, moving out of his apartment a few blocks from the Marina Del Rey harbor to a smaller spot in the San Fernando Valley. He had also borrowed money from members of his family to pay his old landlord back, hoping that he’d be able to write off the new debt with the relief funds from the state. But once the company that owns his apartment complex, Equity Residential, received a check from the state, they sent it back, citing program guidelines that deemed Addis no longer eligible for assistance.

“It’s just painful to think that the money that was allocated to solve my problem was sent back and I’m still in debt and now I have to downsize again,” he said, explaining that he’s about to move to Simi Valley, even further from his teenage son, who lives with Addis’ ex-wife. “I’m not in any way leaning on the state but I had a bad year — a bad couple years — and there was a program to help. And they helped me in the worst possible way.”

Addis’ long wait for California’s emergency rental relief program isn’t unusual. Though the application window closed in March 2022, more than 70,000 households still have applications pending on the eve of 2024.

California lawmakers created Housing Is Key with billions of dollars in federal relief money, initially guaranteeing everyone who applied in time and was approved would get paid. The ultimate goal of the program was to stem a flood of evictions, as state and local emergency eviction bans came to an end.

For many Californians, it’s been a vital lifeline. The program has sent more than $4.7 billion to nearly 370,000 lower-income households, according to data from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

But a sizable, unlucky minority of applicants — tenants and landlords alike — have had to wait…and wait and wait.

In the meantime, many have borrowed money from friends and relatives, pleaded and haggled with impatient creditors, missed monthly payments and turned to online support groups for tips on how to sidestep the program’s red tape.

Still others have been evicted, though the state doesn’t maintain records on how many.

Tenant rights advocates and anti-poverty groups accuse the state of perpetuating a cruel bait-and-switch on some of the state’s neediest. The state’s housing department blames some of those same advocates for the delay, pointing to a lawsuit that slowed down the application review process.

For those still waiting, the hold-up has taken on a new degree of urgency. Housing Is Key might soon be out of cash. Though California’s Housing and Community Development department, which oversees the program, recently “identified additional funding,” it’s unclear whether that will be enough to pay out every last valid claim.

How much is left?

The state’s housing department declined to estimate when the program will run out of money or how many people are likely to get help before that happens. That figure depends on two unknowns: How many of the as-yet unprocessed applications will ultimately be approved and, of those, how much rental debt each applicant is owed.

“Given this inherent uncertainty, we remain focused on assisting as many eligible households as possible with the funding we have available,” said Pablo Espinoza, the department’s deputy communications director.

But the available figures offer a few hints.

As of early November, there were at least 33,658 initial applications still pending, according to data published by the housing department. Another 39,401 applicants were initially denied, but awaiting an appeal review. That’s a total of 73,059 applications.

Though CalMatters reported in early October that the department projected the program would soon be out of money, program administrators were able to dig up some more. According to Espinoza, because the program is in its “final wind-down” phase, money initially set aside to pay administrative overhead or leftover from locally-run programs is now available to help renters. That’s left a new projected balance of roughly $171 million.

But that’s “not nearly enough,” said Anya Svanoe, a spokesperson for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, one of a handful of organizations that sued the department last year over its administration of the rent relief program. “Tens of thousands of people are at risk of being evicted or made homeless, not because they were ineligible, but because the state ran out of money.”

Svanoe points to the average pay out, published on the program’s online data dashboard: $12,018.

‘Substantial remodel’ — a legal loophole to evict tenants in LA

Erica Rede never thought the installation of some new appliances could lead to an eviction.

Rede says she’d always paid her rent on time, and had been living in her South Pasadena apartment, with her son (a recent South Pas High grad), for seven years when her building was purchased by a new landlord. Soon after that, a vacant neighboring unit got new flooring, new heating and cooling, a washer and dryer, and a dishwasher. But rather than hope her apartment would soon gain these amenities, Rede worried.

Then, in July 2022 during the countywide Covid eviction moratorium, Rede received an eviction notice, saying “the basis for the termination is that the Premises [sic] will be substantially remodeled” — her fear was coming true.

Rede’s story is all too common across LA County: Through a loophole in the state’s Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (TPA), landlords can push tenants out to facilitate a “substantial remodel” — though what exactly constitutes “substantial” has always been fuzzy.

California Abdicating Duties on Housing People Who are Unhoused

With more than 170,000 people experiencing homelessness in California, most of whom are Black and Brown,  many government actors are seeking clarification on their ability to sweep unhoused people out of public view. More pointedly, these government actors, after several losses in lower courts, are asking for a blessing from the highest court to remove unhoused people from the street without any guarantees of building or investing in either enough shelter or enough housing for those who need it.

The epidemic of houselessness is ever present –  touching every area of our state, and now every area of our legislative and legal systems. The historic reach of the problem is now forcing our big blue state to stretch. How we choose to do so is the question. At present, our cities and counties are reaching past the courts, perceiving them not as arbiters of facts or interpreters of the legal boundaries of enforcement, but rather as obstacles. Treating the lower courts as a scapegoat in their lackluster efforts to address this crisis, several counties and cities have asked for Supreme Court intervention. The goal is to overturn a series of decisions that protect the civil rights of the unhoused in Johnson v. Grants Pass.

In 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in Martin v. Boise that cities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances against unhoused people without shelter beds available for them. The Boise decision rests on the undisputed fact that human beings need sleep in order to sustain life, and a City’s failure to provide a sheltered place to rest or sleep, paired with the active criminalization of sleeping outdoors, is inhumane under the 8th Amendment. 

Johnson v. Grants Pass is the Ninth Circuit’s recent ruling that modestly expands Boise to include administrative enforcement of anti-camping ordinances and prohibitions on using blankets and pillows to sleep. And the Coalition on Homelessness and several unhoused individuals sued the City of San Francisco over their violation of Boise and other policies on the books for destroying encampments without offering shelter to residents.

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California lawmakers vote to ban mandatory evictions for arrested tenants

State lawmakers approved legislation late Wednesday that would bar mandatory evictions or exclusion for California tenants and their families based on criminal histories or brushes with law enforcement.

Assembly Bill 1418 combats local policies known as “crime-free housing” that can require landlords to evict tenants for arrests or prohibit landlords from renting to those with prior convictions. The bill would make many of these laws unenforceable, ending the practice in scores of communities.

The bill’s author, Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D-Hawthorne), said that its passage advances the state’s racial justice efforts by stopping communities from using crime-free housing laws to exclude or push out Black and Latino renters.

“We want to make sure we keep Black and brown people in their homes and that [crime-free housing rules] are not used as an excuse for gentrification,” McKinnor said.

The bill does not affect landlords’ ability to initiate nuisance-related evictions or screen tenants based on criminal histories of their own accord.

AB 1418 was inspired by a 2020 Times investigation that highlighted the proliferation of crime-free housing policies across California, especially in communities with growing Black and Latino populations. Times reporting found that local governments have approved the policies even when crime rates were stable or falling, while the number of Black or Latino residents was increasing. The Times determined that in some areas crime-free housing rules were enforced against Black, Latino and other tenants of color in far greater numbers than their share of the population.

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California lawmakers strike landlord deal to cap security deposits, add eviction protections

California lawmakers brokered deals with landlords and Realtors to send Gov. Gavin Newsom bills to enhance protections for tenants — a victory for renters, in spite of some significant concessions.

The Legislature late Thursday approved Senate Bill 567 from Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, which would strengthen protections for renters facing evictions for renovations or landlord move-ins. Durazo pitched the measure as a way to prevent homelessness for those at risk of losing their housing.

The California Apartment Association and real estate groups strongly opposed SB 567, which builds on a 2019 measure that created a framework of eviction protections for tenants. But Durazo and tenant advocates were able to work out a last-minute deal with the apartments’ group that shifted their stance to neutral.

Lawmakers earlier in the week approved Assembly Bill 12 from Assemblyman Matt Haney, D-San Francisco, which would cap security deposits at one month’s rent. Haney also amended his bill to allow smaller landlords to ask for up to two months’ rent.

California renters have traditionally had little power in the Capitol, where groups representing Realtors and landlords hold significant sway.

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California lawmakers approve bills including eviction protections and mental health care reform

The California Legislature voted Thursday to bolster eviction protections for renters and close a loophole in an existing law that has allowed landlords to circumvent the state’s rent cap.

The eviction reform bill was among hundreds approved before the end of a late legislative session, including giving striking workers unemployment benefits and reforms to the state’s mental health system.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 14 to act on the bills by signing them into law, rejecting them with a veto or allowing the bills to become law without his signature.

The rental bill by Democratic state Sen. María Elena Durazo would update a 2019 landmark law creating rules around evictions and establishing a rent cap at 5% plus the inflation rate, with a 10% maximum.

The governor was the architect of the 2019 law on renter protections, but he has not indicated whether he will sign the new eviction legislation, the bill sponsors said.

Under the 2019 law, landlords can evict tenants for “at fault” or “no fault” reasons. “At fault” reasons include failure to pay rent on time. Under “no fault” rules, landlords can terminate leases merely by saying they need to move into units, make repairs or take the units off the rental market.

Renters’ advocates said some landlords have exploited the “no fault” evictions to get around the state’s rent cap. They pointed to a case in Santa Clara County in which a landlord evicted tenants, citing the need to move in their relatives, but then re-listed the units at nearly double the price.

Under Durazo’s new bill, landlords moving into their unit or renting to family also must identify the people moving in, the rental must be occupied within three months of eviction and they must live in the unit for at least a year. Those who evict tenants to renovate properties must include copies of permits or contracts, among other details, when serving eviction notices.

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