Despite pandemic eviction bans, people are still losing their homes

Jean Kendrick, and her son, Stanley Jackson, who has a disability, are currently without a home during a global pandemic. 

They were recently evicted from their apartment in Richmond, and now live in an extended-stay hotel. The room they’re in is uncomfortable, and they can’t afford it.

"We’re about ready to run out of money," Kendrick said.

Jackson, who is a wheelchair user, suffered traumatic brain injuries after a police chase and car wreck 20 years ago. He said that the accident was terrible, and changed his whole life. Unfortunately, so did an ongoing dispute with his Richmond neighbors. 

Their landlord moved to evict the family due to this dispute early last year. Now, they’re without a home, or much hope. 

Anne Tamiko-Omura, an attorney at the Eviction Defense Center, said that even with existing eviction moratoria, Bay Area families are still being pushed onto the streets. 

This may include tenants whose eviction processes started before the pandemic--people who are now without housing as a deadly, contagious virus ravages California.

"Court is still going forward," Tamiko-Omura said. "Evictions are still going forward."

The California eviction moratorium currently expires on January 31. On top of that, President Biden’s recent executive order, which extends the federal moratorium, doesn’t apply to states like California that have their own bans. 

If the California law is not extended, presuming what tenant attorney Christina Collins calls "the worst case scenario", landlords have the ability to sue tenants in small claims court beginning on March 1, 2021. The presidential order protects people from eviction through March, so the timeline of when people may be legally evicted remains unclear.

Depending on where you live in the Bay Area, your protections may differ. In Alameda County, evictions are fully suspended. 

"If someone calls from Contra Costa County, it’s a completely different story," Tamiko-Omura explained. "We have to tell them you may be facing eviction in few weeks..."

Research from the Bay Area Equity Atlas paints a clear picture: people who lost their jobs or reduced their income are the most vulnerable to losing their homes. Among this group, people with low incomes or who are in low-wage jobs, and people of color are most likely to be behind on rent. 

When just 39% of Americans can cover an unexpected, $1,000 dollar expense, and housing in the Bay Area is already dangerously unaffordable, it’s going to be materially impossible for most people to pay back the rent they owe. And they will have to pay it. 

Although advocacy groups and activists continue to push for rent cancellation, cancellation is both unprecedented and unlikely in America.

Assemblymember David Chiu said that he believes  "money has to be part

of the equation" for effective legislature that helps renters. He’s proposed two bills: one to extend renter protections through 2021, and another to get struggling tenants and landlords financial assistance. 

Under the California moratorium; tenants must pay 25% of rent in order to avoid eviction.

"In some instances it literally could be life or death," Chiu said. "California, at the moment, we are staring down a deep and dark eviction cliff."

"There is literally going to be a title wave of evictions," Tamiko-Omura said.

But even when people are not evicted from their homes, tenants often face other negative repercussions when they can’t pay.

"There are tenants who are still being harassed despite the presence of eviction moratoriums," said Jackie Zaneri, a tenant attorney at the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Institute. "There are tenants who don't know about those laws."

Such is the case for one woman, her husband, and her two young children in Sacramento County. She did not want to be identified because she says her former landlord is harassing her, and she fears retaliation. 

She said she was paying the legal minimum of 25% of her rent and that the landlord wouldn’t negotiate a deal with her. He kicked her family out at the end of their lease on December 9. 

She was unable to secure an apartment, which she thinks is because the landlord would not provide a recommendation to potential new landlords--an unavoidable part of most rental applications. The family moved, against their concerns about space and covid safety, into an already-crowded family house in Stockton. 

"They only care about the money, and to him, if we didn’t have it all, then we weren’t good enough to reside at his property," she said.

Here are some resources, including advocacy groups, tenant’s unions, rent stabilization boards, and legal aid: