“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.”
“We asked Madeline Howard, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, what people should do if they’re nonetheless still waiting for movement on their application. “If you have an application in already and you’re just waiting, I would suggest reaching out to HCD [the Housing and Community Development Department],” she said. She recommends calling the help line at (833) 430-2122.”
“At the same time, the state’s rent relief program will stop taking applications at the end of March. Applications will still be processed and payments completed beyond that date. But a new report from PolicyLink and the Western Center on Law and Poverty indicates applicants have been waiting months for the state to make decisions on their cases, and that most applicants have not received payment.”
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.
“Madeline Howard is a senior attorney at the influential Western Center on Law & Poverty, a non-profit that represents low-income Californians, said, “We hear a lot about mom-and-pop landlords in policymaking, but in reality, most tenants live in housing that owned by corporate entities like these real estate investment trusts.
The consequences of eviction are often brutal. “When a family is evicted, whether it’s by a court process or whether they’re just afraid of the owners harassing them, they’re often going to end up homeless,” said Howard.”
COVID-19 has been with us for nearly two years, and in California we’ve gone through a dizzying rollercoaster of eviction protections, ranging from robust – the Judicial Council’s emergency order stopping all but emergency evictions, to nonsensical – the March 2020 executive order billed as an eviction moratorium that had little actual effect.
Tenants and advocates have been tirelessly demanding simpler, more robust eviction protections that will last until the state distributes billions in rental assistance funds to eligible tenants and landlords. These demands were ignored, and evictions are now rolling forward while tenants continue to wait for the funds to be distributed. At the same time, the number of Californians experiencing homelessness continues to rise. This continually evolving crisis also highlights the ways evictions are another form of racialized violence that harm communities of color much more than others; in particular, Black people are disproportionately likely to be evicted and experience homelessness.
In California, about 17 million people rent their homes. Any of those people could be kicked out of their home in a matter of weeks under our current eviction laws — even if they have lived in their home for 30 years, if they are a person with a disability, or if they are elderly and in poor health and it’s the middle of winter. Renters are constantly vulnerable because our system prioritizes the rights of property owners over basic human needs.
During the pandemic, public health researchers demonstrated through exhaustive research what tenants and advocates already know – people who are evicted are also more likely to die. Children experiencing eviction do poorly in school, impacting the trajectory of their lives. Pregnant women suffer greater mortality and have worse health outcomes. Evictions lead to profound mental health problems that persist even after the tenant finds new housing. An eviction is not a blip in a life; it is a catastrophic event that can take people from barely making it to not making it at all.
The legislature passed AB 832 this summer, the third in a series of complicated eviction protection laws intended to stop evictions for tenants eligible for rental assistance. While the bill has protected some tenants, many people remain vulnerable to losing their homes. State rental assistance is rolling out far too slowly and tens of thousands of eligible tenants are still waiting for help to arrive.
Tenant attorneys and advocates are trying to defend tenants from eviction for rental debt that should be covered by the billions of dollars California received from the federal government, but the money is moving too slowly, and courts are processing eviction cases without checking to see if the landlord is being paid through the rental assistance fund. The law is so complicated that tenants have little chance of defending themselves without an attorney, and even with an attorney, tenants eligible for rental assistance can still be evicted even while their landlord receives the money they are owed.
As a result, people who should be protected by these laws are becoming homeless. Those who lose their homes will, more likely than not, also be those who took the brunt of COVID’s devastation – people of color, people with disabilities, elderly people, and families with young children. These are Californians who just want to keep a roof over their head — those who lost jobs during COVID or had to stay home to care for children who suddenly had no physical school; those who got sick themselves or had to care for sick family members.
The complex, layered web of protections that evolved throughout the pandemic all just highlight one fundamental truth: the entire system we use to provide housing, and to take it away, is utterly unjust and broken. COVID must be a wake-up call for us all that this system doesn’t make sense.
Thanks to AB 1482, the Tenant Protection Act passed in 2019, most tenants have existing protection from so called “no cause” evictions — when the landlord simply kicks you out without stating a reason. Despite these protections, a tenant can still be removed from their home if they are late for even part of a month’s rent. With only three days’ notice, landlords can proceed with an eviction case, even for a long-term tenant who follows all the rules.
Without enough attorneys to assist them, tenants facing eviction will often just move out because they are afraid to go through the court process alone. Our entire legal system is based on the premise that a landlord’s right to evict someone from the property they own is fundamental and critical. Even when the landlord is a giant multinational corporation that owns tens of thousands of units, their right to evict is treated as primary; meanwhile for the family who lives in that home, the “property” is the center of their life, community, access to work, school, and medical care. All of that can be taken away from California tenants with only three days’ notice.
It benefits all of us as a society to remake this system to protect people’s basic right to a safe home. Many people are working to do just that, through the movement for social housing and Tenant Opportunity to Purchase legislation (like in Berkeley, Oakland and Los Angeles). In California, we must work to make fundamental, long-term reforms based on the basic premise that affordable, stable housing is a necessary foundation for healthy communities. Evictions should be a rare occurrence that only happen as a last resort.
“In California, the statewide eviction moratorium ended September 30. That means starting this month, landlords can issue eviction notices for nonpayments. Those notices are typically issued as a three day, pay or quit notice both nailed to the door and sent via mail, according to Tina Rosales, an attorney and policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We are getting an uptick in nonpayment of rent evictions, and those are three-day evictions to pay the rent or to leave,” Rosales said.”
“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.”
“Your landlord is not allowed to harass you. That is against the law. And you should contact legal aid and stay in your home,” says Madeline Howard, a senior staff attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty.
Howard recommends finding a local legal aid group that can help you advocate for yourself. The state’s housing website has a tool to look up local organizations and aid groups in your county offering assistance for renters.”
Western Center Awarded $15,000!
Thank you for voting in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge! Because of your votes, we will receive $15,000 to support our advocacy. Thank you!
California Budget Update
The dust is mostly settled for the 2021-22 California budget; we break things down by Western Center priority area in this Budget Overview. There is a lot of good news in this budget, including the biggest investment in health care in California since the implementation of the ACA, as it becomes the first state to remove exclusions to Medi-Cal for adults 50+, young adults, and children, regardless of immigration status. The budget will also eliminate the draconian Medi-Cal assets test by 2024, and includes many priorities from SB 65, California’s Momnibus bill that we are co-sponsoring this year to close the state’s racial gaps in birth outcomes. While the budget includes many components of SB 65, we will continue to push the bill to further address the state’s disparate birthing outcomes.
After two decades of advocacy, this year’s California state budget also includes reparations for victims of forced sterilization in women’s prisons, making California the first state in the country to compensate survivors of state sterilization. Reparations are an important step in confronting California’s legacy of reproductive violence against Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty, as well as for other reparations movements. PBS’ Belly of the Beast follows the historic movement for reparations for survivors of forced sterilization in California.
Emergency Broadband, Tenant Fact Sheet, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day
Thanks to the advocacy of the National Urban League and other community partners, funds are now available to make the internet more accessible for households with low incomes. Each month, $50 will go directly to broadband providers on behalf of eligible customers. $100 is also available for purchase of new equipment, like a computer or tablet. Learn more here.
Alongside our coalition to keep Californians safely housed amidst the pandemic, we published an update to our California Tenant Relief Fact Sheet. Last month, California extended statewide renter protections and updated how California renters and landlords receive financial help; the fact sheet explains what it all means. The fact sheet is also available in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and Vietnamese.
August 3rd is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which, according to the Equal Pay Today campaign, is “the approximate day a Black woman must work into the new year to make what a white non-Hispanic man made at the end of the previous year.” Black women earn only 63% of what white men earn, so there is A LOT to do to reach pay equity. The Equal Pay Day movement also includes different days of acknowledgement for each BIPOC group — some earlier in the year, and some still to come. We must all keep working to uplift women of color, especially Black women, because as Malcolm X said, the lowest baseline this country has is for its treatment of Black women. If we can fix that, we can fix this country.