California just extended eviction protections again. But how many people does the deal leave out?

As the sun set over Vallejo on Tuesday evening, Cristal Little shuffled her clipboard and walked to another apartment door. She knocked.

The first woman to respond told Little, a local tenant organizer, that she had been waiting for weeks for answers from a state program that promised to help pay off pandemic rent debt.

An upstairs neighbor said she had no debt, but was worried about a recent rent increase.

Further down the aging two-story block with peeling paint around the windows, a mother fired from her job at the start of the pandemic burst into tears as she spoke of the eviction notices taped to her wears every month. With a deadline looming for California’s emergency tenant assistance programs, she moved her kids in with her sister this week to at least protect them from whatever might come next.

“I really don’t know what my rights are anymore in this strange gray space we find ourselves in,” said the mother, who asked not to be identified for fear of jeopardizing a new job. “I care too much about their childhood memories to risk that.”

After March 31, state applications close for more than $5 billion in emergency federal funding set aside to repay California landlords for pandemic rent debt and keep renters in their homes. On Thursday, lawmakers approved a measure, AB2179, to further extend certain eviction protections through June 30.

The bill would end evictions for tenants who apply for emergency housing assistance before 11:59 p.m. Thursday. In addition to tenants rushing to meet the application deadline, state reports show a long backlog; So far, California has only helped 223,103 of the roughly 507,000 households that applied for rent relief on Tuesday.

Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis signed the new eviction bill because Governor Gavin Newsom is vacationing with his family in Central and South America. Kounalakis is the first woman to sign legislation as interim governor.

The bill was opposed by several Bay Area lawmakers after concerns about provisions to override tougher eviction bans recently enacted in cities including San Francisco and Los Angeles. As landlord groups have expressed frustration over another statewide expansion of eviction protections, tenant advocates have made the deal part of an ongoing strategy to “bailing out” landlords while sacrificing tenants who are still struggling to recover financially from the pandemic.

For Little, the Eleventh Hour policy is secondary to the Bay Area’s growing housing inequality.

“We’re just preparing for the reality ahead,” Little said. “What everyone has heard of is here.”

Little was born in Tijuana and raised in the Coachella Valley and Richmond as her parents transitioned from farm labor to jobs in food preparation and fire sprinkler installations. The family moved to Vallejo in 2015, when Little was on her way to Mills College in Oakland and the one-bedroom apartment she shared with five family members in Richmond was suddenly sold.

His family was able to evolve by moving further, buying his house in Vallejo. But seeing neighbors disperse to Stockton, Modesto and Fresno spurred Little on to pursue a political career. She had been working for a few months as a community organizer at the new Vallejo Housing Justice Coalition when the coronavirus lockdowns began.

“Holy shit,” she remembers thinking. “What are we going to do for all the people who are going to lose their jobs?”

In the nine-county Bay Area, about 127,000 households still had a collective $995 million behind on rent as of early last month, according to census data analyzed by tenant advocates National Equity Atlas. The past two years have brought a historic windfall of direct aid money to try to catch up with the many service workers, seniors and other Bay Area tenants who have fallen behind.

But rent relief efforts have been clouded by disparate state and local programs, shifting eligibility rules and bitter disputes between landlords and tenants. A March 23 census survey found that about 580,000 California renters still worried about paying rent had not asked for help.

Now, after other safety net program breakdowns like COVID-era unemployment, renters and landlords say the lasting legacy of the pandemic could make it even harder for low- and middle-income residents to the Bay Area to find rental housing.

Many affluent Bay Area residents have spent the pandemic working remotely from getaways like Lake Tahoe, hunting rental deals in hollowed-out downtown areas or wading through all-out bidding wars. Tenants who fell behind took out risky loans, debated between paying for food or housing, and worried about moving into their cars. Meanwhile, some small landlords have struggled to pay mortgages, increased screening requirements for new tenants, or considered pulling badly needed rentals off the market to evade regulation.

“Landlords are getting super creative and using every loophole possible to get people out,” Little said, recalling recent efforts to fund hotel rooms or find places like churches for evicted Vallejo tenants to sleep. “Even if people become homeless, there are no resources here.”

Last summer, Vallejo’s home county of Solano became one of seven Bay Area counties to incorporate local pandemic rent relief efforts into the central Housing Is Key program. of State. Other participating counties are Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara.

As of March 23, about 66% of the more than 93,700 people who have applied for rent relief in those counties have received funding, according to an analysis of state data conducted by Oakland tenant advocacy group PolicyLink. This includes thousands of households who received an initial payment but are still awaiting responses on whether they will receive assistance for additional months, as promised by state officials.

“At the rate they are now, it will take until Thanksgiving for all applications to be reviewed,” said Sarah Treuhaft, vice president of research at PolicyLink. “The longer it takes, the more evictions we will see and the more people will be homeless.”

The last-minute eviction deal approved Thursday in Sacramento won’t impact older and more controversial local eviction bans in Alameda County. But it will reverse recent local measures in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles County.

The agreement overturns a San Francisco order signed last month by the mayor of London Breed to indefinitely extend the eviction moratorium for tenants who cannot pay rent after April 1 due to pandemic-related hardship. Similar to previous local measures in Alameda County, the ordinance would have halted evictions until Breed ends an ongoing COVID emergency proclamation.

San Francisco lawmakers Assemblyman Phil Ting and State Senator Scott Wiener, both Democrats, opposed AB2179 because they said the provision to override certain local protections against evictions and no others was a fatal flaw.

For Assemblyman Alex Lee, D-San Jose, the whole ordeal felt like a “pretty dismal” case of deja vu in a state already notorious for extreme housing inequality.

“That’s what, the fifth, sixth time we’ve played the tightrope game, where it’s like, ‘All right, the deadline is right here,'” Lee said. “It’s far from a perfect expansion, but it’s better than nothing, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now.”

As of March 23, 977,670 California renters told Census investigators they were “not at all confident” in their ability to pay rent on April 1.

In Berkeley, a recent amendment to ban evictions under the Ellis Act will also be overturned by new state law, tenants’ attorney Leah Simon-Weisberg said, along with another local ordinance approved at Richmond last year to end evictions for unpaid pandemic debt.

The fallout will not be felt in the same way. Black, Latino and female tenants are historically most at risk of eviction, researchers from UC Berkeley and Princeton University have found, potentially worsening longstanding racial and gender wealth gaps.

“Do whatever you can to pay April’s rent,” said Simon-Weisberg, legal director for the statewide tenant advocacy group, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, or ACCE. . “Because then we’re going to have to go back to the old school where we were begging for the courts.”

Tenant groups pushed unsuccessfully to counter this risk by extending requests for rent relief, which would have allowed tenants to apply for additional months of support and allowed local governments to create their own eviction bans in the event more stringent pandemics. But California landlord groups have already filed lawsuits over what they say is the government’s extreme overreach on private housing rentals.

“Enough is enough,” California Rental Housing Association President Christine Kevane LaMarca said in a statement. “By halting applications for those in need and extending the moratorium on evictions, rental housing providers are being forced to bear the financial brunt of the pandemic, and some of them will lose their properties as a result.”

Where that leaves tenants like Vallejo’s mother Little spoke with on Tuesday is unclear. She’s still five months behind on the $1,800-a-month rent for her two-bedroom apartment and is awaiting a response to a rent relief application filed last fall – a longer wait than the average processing time state’s recent run of about three weeks, but one that service providers say is typical in cities where rent relief obligations have been transferred between state and local authorities.

His new job doesn’t pay as well as his old job, making it unrealistic to pay off his debts quickly. The woman, who grew up in Oakland and moved to Vallejo before the pandemic, still took no risks with her own children after a life fending off rising rents and threatening notices in an increasingly hostile Bay Area .

“I dealt with this before when I was a kid,” she said. “But I’m not going to let that be their story.”

San Francisco Chronicle writer Dustin Gardiner contributed to this report.

Lauren Hepler (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @LAHepler

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