California lawmakers on Thursday approved an emergency bill to extend the state’s eviction moratorium until June 30. giving government officials an additional three months to deliver rent relief payments for tenants who have experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The extension highlights the bureaucratic challenges that thousands of California tenants and landlords have faced over the past year applying for and obtaining approval for billions of dollars in emergency rent relief. It also puts pressure on state and local jurisdictions responsible for administering the funds to quickly deliver aid before July 1.
Assemblyman Tim Grayson, Democrat of Concord and one of Assembly Bill 2179said Californians eligible for aid should not face eviction while waiting for payments to be processed through a system criticized by both Republicans and Democrats.
“We are not going to allow Californians to suffer, lose their homes or even their incomes because of application processing delays,” Grayson said.
The bill now goes to Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who replaces Gov. Gavin Newsom after leaving the state Wednesday night for a family vacation. Acting governors have rarely taken legislative action in the past. Kounalakis would be the first woman in state history to sign a bill.
Lawmakers finalized AB 2179 hours before the moratorium was due to expire and evictions could resume on Friday, the latest in a string of eleventh-hour deals over the past two years to extend relief before a deadline. State protections technically ended at the end of September. But to evict between October 1 and March 31, landlords had to apply for financial assistance before you can file a complaint.
The extension will not cover all tenants in arrears, only those who submitted a claim by Thursday and are waiting for help.
“There is no doubt that many people are being left behind in this legislation,” Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) said in a vote Thursday in the Senate. “We support this even though we know it’s not comprehensive legislation, because we know it’s important for those who will be helped.”
California received $5.2 billion last year from the federal government and implemented the program to keep tenants housed and landlords out of debt. The state was responsible for administering about $2.6 billion for the state-run system, while local governments that set up their own programs were responsible for the rest.
A separate program was created to help homeowners who had fallen behind on their payments during the pandemic, using $1 billion in federal assistance.
According to a dashboard that follows the program. The average aid per beneficiary is $11,443, and the state has so far disbursed more than $2.5 billion. The dashboard does not provide data on the amount administered by locally run programs, although some jurisdictions that started with their own system have since joined the state effort.
The state-run program allows landlords and renters to apply and promised to pay up to 100% of late rent and utilities. Low-income residents hardest hit by the pandemic and most likely to be evicted have been prioritized.
A state law approved in February, however, eased restrictions on who was eligible for relief and allowed state funds to be used to speed up the pace and reduce the backlog of applications. California in November also requested another $1.9 billion for the program from the US Treasury Department and has so far received $200 million, although state officials have said more is expected.
“The department remains absolutely committed to paying every eligible applicant,” said Geoffrey Ross, deputy director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
Ross said the department’s goal is to finalize payments by “early summer.”
But during legislative hearings this week, lawmakers raised a list of concerns about how the program works. They argued that there had not been enough outreach to raise awareness of the program and that non-English speakers had found it difficult to navigate the application process. They called for more staff to be added to fulfill program commitments and wondered if the state could meet the June 30 deadline.
“It’s almost like a facade, it’s almost theatrical,” Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) said during a hearing on Wednesday, referring to the government having funds for the program but not the infrastructure for it. send the money quickly.
“We’re here today because of a lack of personnel and poor preparation for it, so I think that should be a priority,” Bradford said.
Assemblyman Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat and another sponsor of the bill, said the Legislature must first pass AB 2179 to ensure tenants can stay housed. Then the legislature should analyze whether the program “has been managed effectively,” she said.
“I think we as an organization need to have these conversations to make sure that if we’re delivering social safety net programs, we’re implementing them successfully and helping the people we need and have. intend to do,” Wicks said.
Other concerns remain.
Gary DeLong, a board member of California Rental Housing Assn., a group that opposed AB 2179, said small landlords have been “devastated” during the pandemic.
DeLong said the rent relief program was riddled with problems and an extension could force small landlords to sell their properties.
” We hope [the extension] will only affect a small number of people since applications must be submitted by March 31,” he said. “And we encourage our smaller members to hang in there. Let’s hope the end is in sight.
Daniel Yukelson, executive director of Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, also argued that “landlords are dying under this financial strain.”
“No resources were actually provided to rental property owners throughout this process,” he said. “It has always been unbalanced and strongly favorable to tenants. It’s not fair.”
But tenant advocates claim otherwise and have argued that AB 2179 is not what the state should be doing to keep tenants housed. One of their concerns is that the proposal contains a pre-emption clause, meaning it would replace some – but not all – local eviction moratoriums, depending on when they were passed. It’s a provision of the bill that has helped curb opposition from powerful groups like the California Apartment Assn.
The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment said AB 2179 would help initiate evictions and, therefore, worsen homelessness.
“Families have done their part by sheltering in place to keep us all safe, at the cost of losing their livelihoods,” the group’s statement read. “The least California leaders can do is ensure the success of their multi-billion dollar rent relief program by continuing to allow people to apply, lifting local preemptions, expanding eviction protections and, ultimately, keeping families in their homes.”