So what does - and doesn’t - this new law do?
- SB 91 extends AB 3088 - the statewide moratorium on evictions for tenants who are unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19 - until June 30th. This critical extension ensures that families that are struggling financially, through no fault of their own, no longer face the threat of eviction on February 1. However, SB 91 does not close the loopholes in AB 3088. This means that tenants can still be evicted for other reasons, including no-fault or Ellis Act evictions, which have been used by unscrupulous landlords to skirt the law and evict families during a deadly pandemic. Indeed, over 135 households in Contra Costa County have been evicted since March 2020 due to these loopholes. Moreover, SB 91 prevents local communities from passing non-payment eviction protections that are more responsive to local needs and more protective of local residents.
- It establishes a rental assistance program with $1.5 billion from the federal government, which will be used to help low-income tenants pay down their rental debt. This program rightly prioritizes households that make less than 50% of the area median income and areas that have suffered the worst impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
- It provides payment equal to 80% of the debt owed by a tenant and, in exchange, requires landlords to forgive all back owed rent. If landlords participate, this could be a powerful tool to stabilize tenants. However, landlords can refuse to participate. In that case, the tenant may receive a direct payment worth 25% of their rental debt, which will help them qualify for long-term eviction protections. That means that tenants are at the mercy of their landlords, who have the power to decide whether eligible families receive enough money to cover 100% of their debt or only enough to cover 25%.
- Assuming that residents and owners of low-income housing apply for rental assistance, it will provide some financial relief to non-profit affordable housing providers. However, it does nothing to prioritize mission-driven non-profits and other vulnerable housing providers. Instead, it forces them to compete with corporate landlords who profit off the housing crisis for scarce financial resources.