“It feels like a mixed bag,” said Tina Rosales, legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “With our budget surplus, we thought that there would be an extension of the deadline to apply for (rent relief), and there wasn’t.”
At City Center Motel in Long Beach, the untimely death of a long-term tenant spurs others to action
Last year, one day after Veterans Day, at the City Center Motel in room 205, Timothy Star died. He was a Vietnam Veteran who was proud of his Navajo roots. He was a medicine man who provided healing for close friends in need.
Tragically, police discovered Timothy’s body days after he passed. His neighbor, Joseph, says Timothy died from shock. Timothy was served an eviction notice in September, and the prospect of becoming unhoused loomed over him. Ultimately, it was too much.
Timothy was one of nine remaining long-term tenants at City Center Motel in Long Beach facing displacement. Joseph is a tenant I met while organizing in the housing justice movement. Community work often creates a lasting connection, where people continue to reach out looking for support well after you may have left the community based organization (CBO). Sometimes folks reach out when they are in a tough situation. When Joseph called, I called right back. We made plans to meet up and talk to tenants at City Center Motel.
The motel once housed dozens of tenants. Now, the remaining handful of tenants are organizing. Joseph and a few other tenants are connecting with local housing justice organizations for support. They intend to band together and ask the owner of the property for relocation fees. They fear they will end up on the streets if they don’t make such demands.
The motel sits close to Ocean Boulevard surrounded by numerous high-end, high-rise apartments. There is an increase in construction of new housing in the area – most of it out of reach for tenants who have lived there for decades. Joseph says it’s mostly elderly tenants or folks with disabilities at the motel. They cannot afford the current market price of rent in the neighborhood.
Tenants say the last time they had any contact with management was the day they were issued eviction notices. Multiple residents’ names were misspelled on their notices, and some listed completely different names. Other tenants never received notice at all.
Every remaining tenant is legally a renter since everyone paid rent for at least a year at the motel. But in the absence of management, communication, and resources, they are forced to live with extreme uncertainty, barely habitable housing, and no clear alternatives.
The most difficult part was when motel management stopped the amenities. Tenants lost the kitchen, laundry room, control room and the office — it was all locked up soon after the management and staff left.
In response, tenants assigned each other responsibilities that staff once carried out. Joseph and Freddie, fellow tenants, do security since people frequently break into rooms. There was a break in recently and the tenants closed up that room with wooden planks. On Thanksgiving, three men tried to break in, but a tenant talked them down and they left. Break-ins are the biggest safety concern they share.
To make safety matters worse, tenants are often unable to open their rooms since the key door devices no longer work. They have to break into their own room to get home. An older woman, Margaret, has to leave the door slightly open when she leaves since she is disabled and can’t go through the window.
Additionally, there is a lot of water damage in the rooms – ceilings discolored at the edges and black mold. One room boasts a large hole in the ceiling.
All together, tenants are worried about what happens next. However, they will not remain idle.
On November 16, 2021, Joseph and other tenants took their message to council chambers while the city’s Housing Element plan was adopted. They called on the city council to make housing a priority and closed their public comment by asserting that housing is a human right!
Despite ongoing activism, they are now looking to find ways to fund relocation. They continue to face pressure to leave. The property manager tried to put a fence around the site over the holidays. When tenants informed the landlord that this was a form of illegal eviction, they were given access to the fence’s lock.
Now, they organize, hope, and wait for justice to come – perhaps in the form of a fair relocation settlement – so they can start again.
“Annenberg School of Communication’s Center for Health Journalism hosted a webinar Wednesday to discuss the implications of the moratorium’s end, as well as other pandemic aid programs. The panelists focused on the effects the end of these programs will have on low-income communities, discussing which tenants are most at risk, why some tenants have faced challenges to access aid and how journalists can use the power of storytelling to convey the tenants’ struggles.
Michelle Levander, the founding director of the Center for Health Journalism, moderated the webinar and introduced the panelists — Peter Hepburn, assistant professor of global urban studies and urban systems at Rutgers University, Kriston Capps, staff writer for Bloomberg CityLab in Washington, D.C. and Tina Rosales, an advocate on the housing team of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.”
“En los estados donde la moratoria contra los desalojos ha expirado, estos han aumentado aproximadamente 200%”, dijo Tina Rosales del Western Center on Law & Poverty.”
We are one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and the foundation of California’s precarious housing policies are crumbling, leaving a disproportionate number of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) with low incomes vulnerable to mass evictions, housing instability, and homelessness.
It’s a sad reality, but not surprising since California’s housing laws and policies were built on a foundation of racism and white supremacy. Colonization and land theft by European settlers led to the devastation and genocide of Native communities, and planted seeds for centuries of racialized housing practices that we still see today. Generations of government sponsored housing segregation and private discrimination keep BIPOC communities in poverty, contribute to the racial wealth gap, and is a direct cause of housing instability for BIPOC communities during this deadly pandemic.
BIPOC communities are the hardest hit by the pandemic, which is partially a result of historic and current political decisions to uphold white supremacy within housing policies. To understand how and why we are facing an immense economic and housing crisis for millions of people within our communities, we must understand and accept that the housing system was sanctioned by the government to keep BIPOC communities segregated. Only then can we begin to heal and work toward a more equitable future.
In 1934, the federal government created the Federal Housing Administration, which is often applauded for making home-ownership accessible to many Americans by guaranteeing home loans. But the FHA explicitly refused to guarantee home loans for Black people or to even insure mortgages in white neighborhoods where Black people were present. The policy ensured that neighborhoods were racially segregated, often to the detriment of Black neighborhoods. If a Black family could afford to purchase a home, exclusionary zoning kept them out of white neighborhoods, forcing them into devalued, low-income neighborhoods. That had a profound impact on Black families’ ability to acquire wealth through homeownership, and in turn prevented them from passing down generational wealth. Black families today have disproportionately less generational wealth than white families, placing them at increased vulnerability for economic crashes and job insecurity as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only did the federal government obstruct homeownership for Black families, but local governments in California, particularly in the Bay Area, also promoted racial segregation, which kept Black Californians in poverty. In the 1940s, the city of Richmond, California, led by the federal government, created racially segregated neighborhoods to accommodate the growing Black population. However, those publicly funded buildings were poorly built and resembled shanties. Communities were also created for white war workers that explicitly forbade any newly constructed homes from being rented to Black people, forcing Black people to rely more and more on public housing, blocking upward financial mobility.
San Francisco, one of the most liberal and forward-thinking cities in the Bay Area, intentionally segregated Black communities by forcing them into public housing in Hunters Point and the Western Addition. These local policies created “ghettos” whereby Black families were forced to remain in “undesirable,” poverty stricken urban neighborhoods. Now those neighborhoods are facing unprecedented attacks, enduring economic devastation from the pandemic and increasing gentrification and displacement from the same developers who undervalued the neighborhoods.
Those racially discriminatory practices did not end, but continue to impact Black communities today. In 2008, many Black neighborhoods were devastated by the financial collapse caused by predatory subprime mortgages. Since many Black families lost their homes and savings, they were thrust into housing instability with little to no financial safety nets. The federal government did not provide support for low-income residents harmed by predatory lending, but instead decided to bail out the predators – the banks. In a particularly appalling move, the federal government sold those foreclosed properties to large private equity firms, rather than non-profit developers or residents, allowing corporate landlords to monopolize the housing market.
Today, corporate landlords use homeownership and “house-flipping” as a way to further concentrate their wealth on the backs of BIPOC communities, causing long-term harm. Due to these policies, our communities have a rational fear that another housing crisis similar to 2008 is coming, which will lead to more corporate ownership of California’s scarce housing stock.
Since BIPOC communities are being sold to corporate owners, many BIPOC people must rent, which also causes housing instability. Housing instability stems from the tangible problem that people simply cannot afford rent. Since 1990, rent prices in California have skyrocketed as wages stay primarily stagnant. For example, in 1990, the average one-bedroom apartment was $799; today that same one bedroom is $1400.
Studies show that Black renters pay more for housing than white renters for units with similar characteristics in similar neighborhoods, simply because the renter is Black. Additionally, the median income for Black renter households was $32,140, compared to $42,000 for Hispanic renter households, $45,000 for white renter households, and $62,220 for Asian renter households. In 2018, the California Housing Partnership Corporation found that renters need to make 3.5% the minimum wage, or about $38.54/hour to afford median rents.
Given the high cost of rent, it’s no surprise that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many California tenants struggled to pay rent in an increasingly expensive and hostile housing market. In December 2020, 1.1 million California households were behind on rent, owing an estimated $7.3 Billion in arrears.
The high price of rent is not the only problem when analyzing housing affordability and instability for renters, other costs such as utilities, access to transportation, rental application fees, security deposits, etc. all contribute to unaffordable costs of housing. Approximately 17 million Californians are renters, and 1 in 4 are considered severely housing cost burdened, paying over half of their income on housing prior to the pandemic — Black (59%) and Latinx (57%) households are the most housing cost burdened.
Since BIPOC communities are forced to pay more of their income towards housing costs, their quality of life is deteriorated. Often, our communities are forced to live in substandard conditions, which impacts health and job opportunities. Many people of color live in conditions where they are exposed to mold, lead, pests, and lack basic necessities like heat and running water, resulting in illness and death. Families are forced to pick between paying rent or going to the doctor for basic health needs, which is especially important during a global health crisis. Due to the high cost of housing, some families are forced into overcrowding, which can lead to an increased exposure to infectious diseases. Our communities are forced to deal with a trifecta of crises all highlighted by the pandemic and rooted in racism.
Even though many tenants are housing cost burdened, federal, state and local governments have dramatically cut spending on publicly funded affordable housing. While public housing has a history of racial exclusion and criminalization, it is a critical safety net for people of color with low-incomes because it provides the opportunity for families to pay lower housing costs while maintaining safe and stable housing. Since the 1970s, funding for public or subsidized housing has drastically declined and policy makers have failed to restore it. Today, California has fewer than 300,000 units of public housing and about 219 public housing projects. It’s no coincidence that there is a lack of funding for public and subsided housing considering that people of color are often those who reside in them.
However, public housing is not without its own history of racism. The War on Drugs is famously known for the criminalization of Black and Latinx communities, and it also had a secondary effect of influencing public housing policies. Beginning with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which sought to terminate the “reign of terror “of criminal activity in public housing communities, HUD authorized grants for public housing authorities to actively investigate and eliminate drug crimes in public housing authorities. A consequence was over-policing, deliberate harassment, and targeting of people of color in public housing communities.
The Cranston-Gonzales Act of 1990 expanded the definition of eviction to “include any criminal activity that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment”. Public housing authorities were also granted the authority and discretion to terminate tenancy if a family member or guest of the tenant was engaging in drug-related criminal activity, regardless of if the family member or guest was under the tenant’s control.
Now, nuisance ordinances are used to further target communities of color. Citations of minor violations like excessive noise, parking multiple cars in the parking lot, or having items on a patio are used to harass communities of color. Since those evictions are based on something other than non-payment of rent, tenants are still being evicted during a pandemic because renter protections do not apply to them.
In a broader sense, evictions further compound racial segregation in housing. Evictions systemically target people of color — in San Francisco, 24% of Latinx households and 21% of Black households were threatened with eviction from 2013-2018, compared to only 12% of white households.
In courts across California, you can see the racial disparities. As a former tenants’ attorney in Los Angeles, the majority of my clients who were evicted were Black women and Latinx families, and the landlords were white. This is particularity atrocious considering that most tenants are unrepresented. Many are left at the mercy of unjust renter protections, an inaccessible and confusing court system, and potential homelessness.
Insufficient legal protections for renters, plus a lack of financial support from the government, plus the preexisting affordable housing crisis and looming economic recession may lead to even more devastating effects on BIPOC renters for generations to come. Lack of financial support and government intervention could also lead to an increased rate of eviction, particularly for BIPOC renters already experiencing cost burdens. The combination of increased rent burdens on top of already high rent will lead to inevitable displacement and homelessness among BIPOC renters.
Despite the history, we have a chance to change our future. To create a more equitable housing system and heal from the past, we must work together to strengthen our housing policies for communities of color, and actively fight against racist and discriminatory policies. As we’ve seen with shelter-in-place orders, housing is literally a matter of life or death. Governments need to ensure that all people have access to safe, stable, and affordable housing.
Second, the pandemic has shown that evictions lead to death, so we must expand renter protections and rent forgiveness, and end discriminatory housing policies. Finally, the voices of communities of color must be central in creating solutions to affordable housing. We need to place decision making power back into communities to assist in planning, administering and creating housing policies that honor and stabilize our communities.
We can use momentum from the unprecedented nature of the COVID pandemic to fix our broken housing policies, the question is, will we?
 Richard Rothstein, The Color of the Law A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (2018).
 Sophia Weeden, Black and Hispanic Renters Face the Greatest Threat of Eviction in Pandemic, (2021), https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/blog/black-and-hispanic-renters-face-greatest-threat-eviction-pandemic
 National Equity Atlas (2021), The Coming Wave of COVID-19 Evictions: A Growing Crisis for Families in California, https://nationalequityatlas.org/research/analyses/COVID-19-evictions-california
 Amee Chew, Chione Lucina Munoz Flegal, Facing Hisotry, Uprooting Inequality: A Path to Housing Justice in California, (2020) https://www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/pl_report_calif-housing_101420a.pdf
 Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, Pub. L. 100-690, 102 Stat. 4181 Ibid. § 5122 (1988). 42 U.S.C. §§ 1190-03 (2012)
 Sarah Clinton, Evicting the Innocent: Can the Innocent Tenant Defense Survive a Rucker Preemption Challenge?, 85 B. U. L. Rev. 293, 297 (2005)
 See Pub. L. No. 101-625, §. 503, 104 Stat. 4079, 4184-85 (1990); See e.g. Hous. Auth. of Joilet v. Chapman, 780 N.E. 2d. 1106, 1108 (Ill App. Ct. 2002) (holding that public housing residents can be terminated for the criminal conduct of her guest regardless of whether the tenant had control of the guest); See also, Bennington Hous. Auth. v. Bush, 933 A.2d 207, 212-214 (Vt. 2007) (finding that a housing authority can evict an entire family for the misdeeds of one family member).
 San Francisco Planning Department, San Francisco Housing Needs and Trends Report, (2018), https://default.sfplanning.org/publications_reports/Housing-Needs-and-Trends-Report-2018.pdf
Western Center and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation co-sponsored AB 1436 (Chiu) this year to ensure tenants would not be evicted because of their inability to pay rent during a global pandemic that has had devastating economic consequences. AB 3088, which was announced today, includes eviction protections for tenants who cannot afford to pay rent. These protections are critical and we urge the Legislature to pass the bill and the Governor to sign it.
However, AB 3088 is only part of the solution. It is a needed but temporary fix to protect tenants from eviction who are struggling to afford rent. We still need a long-term solution to the pandemic’s financial consequences for tenants, small landlords, and affordable housing providers. Our organizations are committed to working with stakeholders, the Legislature, and the Governor to ensure that new legislation to provide the long-term fix is ready to be enacted by the end of January.
While AB 3088 will help protect tenants from being evicted for nonpayment of rent during the COVID crisis, it is not a complete solution to the looming eviction crisis. Many tenants will be unprotected once the Judicial Council’s Emergency Rule 1 is repealed on September 1st, which put a pause on almost all eviction proceedings.
Evictions other than those for nonpayment of rent—including evictions where the landlord provides no reason — will move forward starting September 2nd. In announcing the repeal of the Rule, the Chief Justice reminded the Governor and the Legislature that it is their role to make policy in this area, not the court’s.
As we continue to struggle to contain COVID-19, allowing any evictions other than those necessary for safety is dangerous and contrary to public health directives.
Like the COVID crisis itself, the removal of Emergency Rule 1 will disproportionately impact Black and Brown renters, exacerbating the state’s stark economic and health disparities, and impeding a just and equitable economic recovery. It will also lead to voter disenfranchisement in an election that will rely almost entirely on mail-in ballots, which require a reliable address.
Western Center and CRLAF will monitor the impacts of evictions once Emergency Rule 1 is lifted and AB 3088, if enacted, takes effect—specifically how evictions impact tenants with low incomes. We will bring forth additional proposals as warranted to ensure tenants are protected.
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:
- The Judicial Council can keep the rule in place a little longer, instead of pulling the plug before the end of the legislative session.
- The Governor can issue an Executive Order to extend the Judicial Council rule until a legislative solution is enacted.
- 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.
“(These evictions) could have been prevented, and it really is distressing to hear that this many people have been evicted when we have these shelter-in-place orders,” said Madeline Howard, senior staff attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which has lobbied for tighter eviction protections during the pandemic.”
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
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.
“That’s really troubling because the legislature has not put something in place to replace the rule, to sort of offset this scenario of mass evictions,” said Nisha Vyas, Senior Attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.”