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Western Center Roundup – October 2023


Hunger Persists but So Do We
A new report from the United States Department of Agriculture shows a sharp rise in food insecurity in 2022, the latest numbers available. A staggering 17 million households struggled to get enough food in 2022, a jump from 13.5 million households who were food insecure in 2021. Hunger, like poverty, is a policy choice and is not inevitable. Our Public Benefits and Access to Justice team continues to monitor the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at the federal level, including suing the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to protect food benefits in the face of Congressional inaction and winning guaranteed October benefits for over 40 million Americans. Our plaintiff, Jacqueline, spoke with CalMatters about struggling to make ends meet. Just this month, Chris Sanchez, policy advocate, was featured in Food Research & Action Center’s list of 12 Latinx advocates “who are leading the charge to end hunger and poverty.”

2023 Legislative Successes

This year, Governor Newsom signed four of our co-sponsored bills into law:

SB 567 (Senator María Elena Durazo), the Homelessness Prevention Act will close the loopholes in the AB 1482 (Chiu), the Tenant Protection Act, another WCLP co-sponsored bill in 2019 that established the first statewide just cause eviction protections and rent stabilization ordinance in CA. SB 567 will provide both a private and public right of action for violations of AB 1482 and will close loopholes in owner-move-in and substantial rehabilitations evictions. These are the two most common protections that unscrupulous landlords violate. Co-Sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, PICO California, and Public Advocates.

AB 1418 (Assemblymember Tina McKinnor), Limiting Racially Motivated Crime-Free Housing Programs and Nuisance Ordinances ends predatory local laws that have unfairly increased evictions and further exacerbated California’s housing crisis. This bill will prohibit a local government from, among other things from requiring or encouraging a landlord to evict or penalize a tenant because of the tenant’s previous history with law enforcement, their association with another tenant or household member who has had contact with a law enforcement agency or has a criminal conviction, or to perform a criminal background check of a tenant or a prospective tenant. Co-Sponsored with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Disability Rights California, National Housing Law Project, and Root & Rebound.

SB595 (Senator Richard Roth), Minimizing Gaps in Health Care Coverage clears up language in another WCLP co-sponsored bill from 2022, SB 644 (Leyva) requiring Employment Development Department (EDD) to share information about those who applied for income-replacing benefits administered by EDD with Covered California to allow Covered California to outreach and help enroll these individuals in Medi-Cal or Covered California. SB595 prevents insurance agents and enrollment brokers from cold-calling individuals to offer healthcare coverage and allows Covered California to conduct timely and targeted outreach to individuals. Co-sponsored with the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network and Health Access.

SB 727 (Senator Monique Limón), Forgiveness of Coerced Debt for Survivors of Human Trafficking will provide a pathway for survivors of human trafficking to have coerced debt accrued during the time they were trafficked forgiven. Co-Sponsored with Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) and Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice.

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A Night to Remember – Reflections from Garden Party 2023
Over 300 people gathered at the Ebell of Los Angeles last week in celebration of Garden Party 2023, our annual fundraiser and night to honor anti-poverty trailblazers. Read about this spectacular night!
FULL BLOG

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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Who is waiting for rent relief

More than 250,000 California renters, unable to make their rent during the height of the pandemic, applied to the state for assistance — only to have those applications denied or sit pending for months.

Now, for the first time, we know a little bit more about who those tenants are.

On Friday, the California Housing and Community Development Department published a demographic and geographic breakdown of the applicants who were denied federal emergency rental assistance distributed by the state, along with a summary of all the renters who are still waiting for help — and the reason why they’re still waiting.

The new data comes courtesy of a legal settlement struck in late May between the agency and a coalition of tenant rights organizations.

  • Madeline Howard, staff attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty: “This is federal money that is being given out by the state, so I think it’s tremendously important that there be transparency about who is getting the funds and that it’s being distributed in a non-discriminatory way.”

Under the terms of the May 30 agreement, the agency agreed to flesh out its appeal process, better explain its denial decisions and start publishing monthly data summaries within 30 days.

Fifty-two days later, the first summary is up:

  • 123,306 applications were denied: No racial or ethnic group appears to have been disproportionately denied compared to the overall applicant pool.
  • 143,391 applications are still pending: For 65%, the state is waiting on more information from the applicant. Another 28% are mid-appeal and only 1% of applicants have had their applications approved but haven’t yet received a check.

Jonathan Jager, an attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said he isn’t surprised a majority of pending applicants didn’t complete their applications.

  • Jager: “It was so hard to interpret the denial notices or the various requests from HCD, so of course people would sit on these tasks.”

Last month’s settlement is meant to simplify the process, but for many renters it may be too late, as the last remaining pandemic-era eviction bans are coming to an end across the state

On Saturday, Oakland’s moratorium came to an end. Renters in Los Angeles have been exempt from eviction over any rental debt accrued between March 2020 and Sept. 30, but that moratorium ends on Aug. 1. And Berkeley’s will end on Aug. 31.

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Western Center’s 2021 Legislative Wrap-Up 

The  2021 California legislative season is over, and Governor Newsom has signed the bills that will become law. Many Western Center priorities made it past the governor’s pen, including groundbreaking legislation like SB 62, which makes California an international leader in the fight to end exploitation of people working in the garment industry, and SB 65, which implements proven interventions to lower California’s unacceptably high mortality rate for Black and Indigenous people who give birth here. 

Below is our slate of co-sponsored bills that were signed by the governor this year, as well as those we plan to bring back next year.


HIGHLIGHTS

SB 62 – The Garment Worker Protection Act seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages for California garment workers by holding California fashion brands to a higher standard of responsibility for the labor of garment workers.  

SB 65 – The California Momnibus is an innovative and comprehensive piece of legislation that reimagines perinatal care in order to close existing racial gaps in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity within the state. 


FINANCIAL SECURITY

AB 461 – CalWORKs Self Employment: Creates a more accessible pathway for CalWORKs recipients to choose self-employment as a work activity. This bill is timely as the state begins to rebuild its economy, which will heavily rely on the talents and creativity of Californians with an entrepreneurial spirit. 


HEALTH

AB 326 – Removes the sunset clause to permanently extend the Consumer Protection Program, which awards advocacy fees to any person or organization that represents the interests of consumers and has made a substantial contribution on regulations, orders, or decisions, within the Department of Managed Health Care.

AB 1020 – Enforcement of the Hospital Fair Pricing Act: We hope that passage of this bill means patients no longer need lawyers to benefit from the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. This bill rose directly out of our legal services partners’ experience in trying to enforce the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. Major components include prohibiting hospitals from selling debt to debt buyers unless they meet all the current standards applicable to debt collectors and agree to take a bill back if the patient should have gotten financial assistance, Medi-Cal, or another payor for their bill; requiring debt collectors and debt buyers to also send patients applications for financial assistance; and increasing eligibility for patients for financial assistance from 350% of the poverty level to 400%.

AB 1355 (2-Year Bill Extending Into Next Year) – Expands Independent Medical Reviews to all Medi-Cal beneficiaries to ensure more beneficiaries can access medically necessary care. Also improves the state’s fair hearing process. 

SB 644 (2-Year Bill Extending Into Next Year) – Allows California’s unemployment department to share information with Covered California when someone applies for or loses benefits to help individuals apply for Covered California or Medi-Cal.


HOUSING

AB 832 – Extended the temporary halt on evictions for nonpayment of rent until September 31, 2021. The bill also created additional tenant protections in court that may halt an eviction if the tenant qualifies and has an approved application for rent relief. For more information, please refer to our COVID-19 tenant relief fact sheet. To apply for financial assistance please visit housingiskey.com.

AB 838 – Enforcement Response to Housing Complaints: Prohibits local code inspection agencies in California from implementing restrictions or preconditions before responding to tenant habitability complaints. The bill specifically prohibits code enforcement agencies from refusing to inspect a unit based on unreasonable conditions, including on the basis that the tenant is behind on rent, is alleged to be in violation of their lease, or is currently in an unlawful detainer (eviction) or other legal dispute with the landlord.

AB 1304 – Affirmatively Further Fair Housing: Strengthens requirements for cities and counties to analyze and proactively address fair housing issues as part of their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. The bill requires the housing element to include an analysis of how the jurisdiction’s inventory of housing affirmatively furthers fair housing; requires that in assessing contributing factors to fair housing issues, jurisdictions look through both a local and a regional lens, take race into account, and examine historical context; and requires jurisdictions to state explicit goals, objectives, and policies related to affirmatively furthering fair housing. 

SB 91 – Expanded protections provided by AB 3088 (2020) and established a statewide rental relief program that pays up to 100% of arrears, prospective rent, and utilities for households experiencing COVID-19 financial hardships. The bill also extended a temporary halt on evictions for nonpayment of rent until June 2021. SB 91 prohibited landlords from charging or attempting to charge late fees and explicitly prohibits the sale or assignment of any unpaid COVID-19 rental debt. 

As California’s eviction moratorium ends Friday, some protections remain for tenants

“Tina Rosales, an attorney and policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said some tenants don’t know they can halt an eviction proceeding by simply completing an application for assistance and many don’t have lawyers to help them. She’s afraid some might get spooked once the moratorium ends and “self-evict.”

“Yes, (state law) does have protections, but those protections rely heavily on a legal system that is not tenant friendly at all,” she said.”

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EPIC News – August 2021


Back to Session

The California Legislature is back from summer recess, which means it’s down to the wire for getting bills passed. The last day for each house to pass bills is September 10th. Check here for the status of Western Center bills as they reach the end of this year’s session.


Fighting to End Wage Theft in California’s Garment Industry

Earlier this month, to kick of the Legislature’s return, our partners at Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles loaded a bus at midnight, after a long day of work, to come to Sacramento to advocate for SB 62, The Garment Worker Protection Act, which seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages. We are co-sponsoring the bill with the Garment Worker Center for the second year in a row because California is home to widespread workplace injustice. In fact, Los Angeles is understood to be the sweatshop capital of the United States.

Currently, many brands producing in California (some selling $78 t-shirts) pay garment workers as little at 11 cents per piece – leaving wages well below the state minimum. California can and should do better to ensure economic dignity for the thousands of workers in its substantial garment industry by passing SB 62.

Check out the video from our day in Sacramento with the Garment Worker Center.


Big Win in Los Angeles for COVID Tenant Protections

Last week, California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the City of Los Angeles’ COVID tenant protections, which were challenged by The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. Western Center and our partners at Public Counsel, The Public Interest Law Project, and Susman Godfrey LLP represent two tenants’ rights organizations, ACCE Action and Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE), who successfully sought to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the ordinances.

The recent Ninth Circuit decision is an important affirmation of the ongoing need for COVID protections to protect public health and keep people housed.

Western Center senior attorney Nisha Vyas explains more about the case here.


Women’s Equality Day & Women’s Equal Pay Day

August 26th was Women’s Equality Day, the day we remember the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted some women in the United States the right to vote. Of course, back in 1920 there were plenty of other systemic barriers to voting, especially for women of color. Too much of that struggle still exists today, which is why we must remember the fights that brought us the rights we have now, as well as the work that remains. To that end, we hope every California voter reading this will cast a ballot in the Gubernatorial Recall Election on or before September 14th.

Native Women’s Equal Pay Day is coming up on September 8th; according to the Equal Pay Today campaign, Native Women earn approximately 60 cents on the dollar of white, non-Hispanic men. September 8th is the day Native women must work into 2021 to make what white men made by the end of 2020. The Equal Pay Day movement includes days of acknowledgement throughout the year that represent the dates women must work into a new year to be paid what men were paid the previous year.


Garden Party: Mark Your Calendar! 

Western Center’s annual Garden Party fundraiser is Thursday, October 14th from 6-7pm PDT. We will highlight our work from the year and honor the amazing contributions of five stellar individuals. And since it’s virtual, you can join from wherever you are!

Get details and tickets here.


LA County extends eviction ban. What’s holding up California’s statewide moratorium?

“But renters in other parts of California are not protected from eviction. And that could lead to a looming eviction crisis, according to Tina Rosales, a policy advocate from Western Center on Law and Poverty. “If the state doesn’t extend the ban for those tenants, then we’re going to have a lot of people who are evicted when there’s billions of dollars in the bank waiting to be released to landlords for the purpose of preventing that exact problem,” she tells KCRW.”

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