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A COVID-induced eviction “tidal wave” in California can be prevented, but it will require the Governor, Legislature, and Courts to coordinate and act quickly.

The California Judicial Council, the head of the state’s court system, announced its intention to repeal the temporary COVID-emergency rule pausing eviction proceedings. This comes after months of back and forth about how the state can best prevent Californians from being forced into homelessness because of their inability to pay rent in the midst of a pandemic. The Council delayed a vote to repeal the rule once, in June, but stated that the rule was only meant as a temporary stop-gap until lawmakers come up with a more permanent solution.

The Council is right—the rule is not a permanent fix; the Legislature and Governor must act swiftly to establish a longer-term solution to protect tenants and small landlords. The fate of hundreds of thousands of Californians is in the hands of the Governor and Legislature; in the meantime, ending the Judicial Council rule now with only weeks’ notice and allowing a flood of evictions just as COVID cases are spiking will cause needless and substantial harm to Californians who cannot pay rent.

Several bills are currently before the Legislature to protect renters and mobile home park residents from eviction for being unable to pay rent during the pandemic, provide economic relief to landlords and affordable housing providers through mortgage forbearance and financial assistance, and provide a moratorium on all evictions for the duration of the COVID emergency. It is crucial that the Legislature be thoughtful and deliberative to get the details right and not rush to meet an arbitrary deadline.

We need the Legislature to deliver and the Governor to sign legislation that provides the strongest eviction protections in the short term so that people can continue to shelter at home to control the spread of the virus, and meaningful long-term relief for tenants, small landlords, and affordable housing providers. 

We see three options that will protect renters and small landlords right now:

  1. The Judicial Council can keep the rule in place a little longer, instead of pulling the plug before the end of the legislative session.
  2. The Governor can issue an Executive Order to extend the Judicial Council rule until a legislative solution is enacted.
  3. The Legislature can pass an urgency bill to extend the rule until they have time to enact a permanent fix.

One of the above options MUST happen by September 2nd. Doing nothing will be a disaster for tenants and for the public health of the state.

The Judicial Council acted responsibly and in line with the urgency of the moment when it enacted its emergency eviction rule. Now the Governor and Legislature need to push the legislative process. If courts reopen for evictions as usual, even for a brief period, the impacts will be profound due to the number of cases already filed and the number of default judgments that will move forward on California’s extremely swift eviction timeline.

California leaders are not at the whim of forces beyond their control, but California renters are at the whim of our leaders’ ability to rise to the moment. If a wave of evictions happens in California in the wake of COVID, it will be because of inadequate action by the Governor and Legislature, and a lack of coordination with legislative deadlines by the Judicial Council.

PRESS RELEASE: With Rule Keeping Californians from Eviction Under Threat, Tenants and Advocates Move to Intervene

            

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The California Judicial Council is being sued over its COVID-19 emergency eviction rule, which interveners say is preventing mass evictions

BAKERSFIELD, CA — With another rent day come and gone and government stimulus checks drained, four individuals and three renters’ rights groups – Faith in the Valley, Organize Sacramento, and Tenants Together – have filed a motion to intervene in Christensen et. al. v. Judicial Council of California, which challenges California’s freeze on evictions during the pandemic. The interveners are represented by Disability Rights California, Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, and Western Center on Law & Poverty. The suit against the Judicial Council disputes the council’s emergency rule keeping tenants from eviction, which was implemented in response to the COVID-19 emergency.

“I have tried to work with my landlord to pay some of my rent, but the property management company is posting letters every week saying I owe more,” says Jeremy Miller, an intervener and renter who lost work to the pandemic. Mr. Miller is worried that he and his 9-year-old daughter will become homeless. “I haven’t slept well in months.”

Renters in California are struggling to pay rent due to job loss, reduction in work hours, or lack of childcare necessary to work. The Judicial Council’s Emergency Rule 1 essentially freezes the eviction process during the state of emergency. The interveners in the lawsuit seek to defend the state’s right to take extraordinary measures to prevent catastrophe until the legislature and governor enact comprehensive relief for both renters and small landlords.

“I’m nervous about having to move during this pandemic with a newborn baby,” says Claudia Rodriguez, a school custodian and intervener. “My daughter and I have asthma. If I have to go to court in September after my notice expires and my baby arrives, I would be so scared and horrified.” Ms. Rodriguez has managed to pay rent during the pandemic, even with reduced work hours. But her landlord gave notice trying to evict her to make repairs, and Claudia has been unable to find another place to rent.

Landlords across the country are filing lawsuits against state and local governments that passed renter protections during the COVID-19 pandemic. On June 15th, two landlords filed Christensen et. al. v. Judicial Council of California in Kern County, arguing that the Council’s suspension of certain procedural steps is unlawful. The lawsuit came during a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and at a time when California has no statewide legislative or executive protections to prevent a swell of evictions.

“This is the worst time to lift any protections for renters, since homes are necessary to shelter in place,” says Lupe Arreola, Executive Director of Tenants Together. “We are seeing a rise in business closures and unemployment filings. Many Californians can’t pay rent; without protection, they will lose their housing. The Judicial Council rule gives the legislature and governor time to develop a solution that protects both renters and small landlords.”

California already had an affordable housing shortage before the pandemic; many tenants were spending half or more of their income on rent, one unexpected life event away from significant devastation. Now we are all experiencing an unexpected life event, and we have the collective obligation to keep Californians housed.

“California leaders talk about creating more equity and addressing the housing crisis, but this is where the rubber meets the road,” says Madeline Howard, an attorney for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Righting decades of wrong is hard enough — the added challenge of a pandemic and recession necessitates proactive, courageous leadership. The Judicial Council displayed that with its emergency eviction rule; we’re fighting to ensure those actions are encouraged and supported.”

Dr. Janine Nkosi of Faith in the Valley says she is concerned that a wave of mass evictions will cause devastating ripple effects for generations of Californians. “School is about to begin, and school leaders and teachers are trying to navigate distance learning. Once again, homes will be classrooms for California children and families. If our community members lose their homes, our children lose their education, and California threatens its own future.”

In addition to facilitating healthy education environments, stable housing and addresses are important for the 2020 Census, and for the integrity of the upcoming election. Federal funding facilitated by the census will be more important than ever in the midst of severe economic downturn, and as more voters turn to mail-in ballots to say safe during the upcoming election, it is imperative that Californians have a reliable address.

“Mass eviction is not just a single issue, and it is not just something that will affect communities in isolation,” said Navneet Grewal, an attorney for Disability Rights California. “Stable housing is foundational for healthy people, healthy communities, a healthy electorate, and ultimately, a healthy state.”

Courts in California are not equipped to handle the wave of evictions that will come if there is no action from the courts, the governor, and the legislature. Even if courts conduct eviction hearings remotely, most vulnerable tenants do not have access to the internet, computers, or understand the legal process.

Many tenants with low incomes who are facing eviction are essential workers who risk their lives and health to provide our state necessary services. We cannot afford to leave our people and communities defenseless.

Contact: Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at]wclp.org

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Disability Rights California (DRC) is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice and system-wide change to secure housing, health care, racial justice and a strong safety net for low-income Californians. Western Center attains real-world, policy solutions for clients through litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and technical assistance and legal support for the state’s legal aid programs. Western Center is California’s oldest and largest legal services support center.

Faith in the Valley is a multi-faith, multi-racial coalition of over 100 Central Valley congregations, covering over 200 miles from San Joaquin to Kern counties, organizing in unity for our region’s most vulnerable families and communities, and for a Central Valley that truly protects, values and includes everyone. During this pandemic and at all times, this includes the right for everyone in the Central Valley to work, live and grow in health, shelter and community.

Thousands of Californians Face Homelessness With Eviction Freeze Set to End

“Nisha Vyas, Senior Attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, spoke at a press conference held by Ethnic Media Services. In her presentation she detailed some mechanics of the Judicial Council’s rules, and she explained how its rescission would hurt California renters.

“We’re extremely concerned about this, as the Legislature and Governor have not yet acted to put something in place that will prevent the massive wave of evictions that will begin when this rule is lifted”

Thousands of Californians Face Homelessness With Eviction Freeze Set to End

Vote planned to end California’s eviction ban

“It still leaves many Californians with no local protections,” said Madeline Howard, a fair housing and eviction defense attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Since Gov. Newsom’s eviction ban expired on May 31, the Judicial Council rule is the only statewide eviction ban in California.

“The Judicial Council rule is the only thing that is stopping a massive number of evictions from happening,” she said. “It’s a really scary prospect.”

Vote planned to end California’s eviction ban

As Eviction Cliff Looms, Calls To Cancel Rent Grow

“The Judicial Council, which sets policy for the California court system, has provided the only statewide protections against eviction during the pandemic, according to Madeline Howard, a senior attorney with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.”

https://theappeal.org/as-eviction-cliff-looms-calls-to-cancel-rent-grow/

Should California end cash bail? Ads begin for November ballot fight

“COVID-19 revealed just how quickly that could change, advocates say. When California eliminated bail for low-level crimes to reduce health risks for detainees, some jail populations shrank by 60 percent, said Jessica Bartholow, Policy Advocate for Western Center on Law & Poverty. Overall, the state jailed about one-third fewer people.”

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The California Judicial Council and a case study for confronting racism in “neutral” institutions.

Earlier this week, the Judicial Council of California announced it was considering a vote to end the  emergency rule suspending evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement was alarming to housing and anti-poverty advocates, and we quickly raised the alarm about the harm such a move would cause for California communities – particularly Black and Brown renters.

Fortunately, the pressure generated both in public and behind the scenes led the Council to decide against the vote to lift the rule. Western Center played a role in pushing the message that lifting the rule would lead to mass evictions, exacerbating the current public health crisis and existing homelessness crisis, both of which are a direct result of the systemic racial inequality that people in California and across the country are protesting right now.

In a statement released after the decision to suspend the vote, the Council asserted its commitment to racial justice, and acknowledged its role in addressing systems that harm Black Americans:

In our profession and in our daily lives, we must confront the injustices that have led millions to call for a justice system that works fairly for everyone. Each member of this court, along with the court as a whole, embraces this obligation. As members of the legal profession sworn to uphold our fundamental constitutional values, we will not and must not rest until the promise of equal justice under law is, for all our people, a living truth.

The Judicial Council’s proposed action, and its subsequent decision to walk it back, is an important example of how easy it is for our institutions to fall into systemic failures that perpetuate racial injustice, and our duty as advocates to explicitly and forcefully call it out.

The COVID-19 public health crisis is also an economic crisis, especially for Californians, and it disproportionately effects people of color who are most likely to have lost work and their ability to pay rent. The paradox of racial inequality we see in the current economy is that Black and Brown people are more likely to lose their jobs because of the crisis, thereby losing income necessary for housing security, but they are also disproportionately employed in the very jobs that put them in contact with other people, increasing exposure to the coronavirus.

Additionally, and intimately connected to the protests against police violence happening across the globe, evictions always place people of color in direct contact with law enforcement. An estimated 365,000 renter households are in imminent danger of eviction in Los Angeles alone, with disproportionate impact on communities of color.  Evictions are enforced by sheriffs’ offices across the state, and the advancement of eviction proceedings forces law enforcement interaction with people in their homes. More evictions mean more interaction with cops.

While the judicial council decision is important now in the midst of uprising and a continued public health emergency, it is important that we do not lose sight of how eviction laws, in California and the rest of the country, reinforce the racist use of government force against people when they are removed from their homes.

It is important that we as Western Center use this opportunity to highlight the ways “neutral” government institutions can and do perpetuate systems embedded in white supremacy. Most systems continue on because it’s “how things are done,” or it’s “the responsibility of another branch.”

Systems resist change; they are built upon repetition to create efficiencies and consistent results. Systems gain legitimacy based on their own perpetuation. The time has come to acknowledge that the racism baked into American systems is illegitimate.

Our current process of evictions is a system designed for efficient and consistent results for landlords to eject tenants with little regard for the outcome. The restart of this process would have (and will have, should it resume without Legislative intervention) devastating effects on Black and Brown households and communities, especially if there is a rush to resume, and a failure to disrupt the patterns of inequity.

While we agree that checks and balances exist for a reason, we do not agree that means branches of government can cede their responsibility to protect people first and foremost. When the opportunity to protect arises, they must do so, even if that means doing things differently, or in ways they are unaccustomed to. We appreciate that the Council delayed resumption of this process because it creates an opportunity to change our approach to this inherently racist system. The times we are in call for thoughtful, longer term solutions, starting with items like our co-sponsored bill, AB 1436.

To move our state and country forward, things MUST be done differently. Otherwise, we will continue to capitulate to the white supremacy this country and state were both founded upon. We expect this conversation and these kind of actions to continue to take place, from the Judiciary, to the Legislature, to the Governor, and within our own organization. This is only the beginning.

California Courts Delay Eviction Freeze Decision, End Zero Bail During Coronavirus Emergency

“The Western Center on Law and Poverty, which advocates for low-income residents, warned before the vote that ending the freeze “is the wrong move.”

In a tweet, the nonprofit said: “If @CalCourts allows evictions in August, it will cause mass displacement, more interactions with police (sheriffs perform evictions), & push 1000s of Californians onto the street. A disproportionate number of CA renters are Black & brown.”

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