As Moratoriums End, An Eviction Crisis Looms Over San Diego County
Rent is due tomorrow for thousands of tenants in San Diego county. But many have not been able to pay it during the coronavirus pandemic. Local and statewide moratoriums have kept a wave of possible evictions on hold for months, but many of those moratoriums are set to expire in the coming weeks.
According to a study by the consulting firm Stout, over 40% of California’s renters are currently unable to pay their full rent and are at risk of eviction.
In San Diego, with its already elevated rents and lack of affordable housing, the issue looks very much the same. When the pandemic closures hit, tenants like Imperial Beach resident Patricia Mendoza suddenly saw their income zeroed out. She was laid off from a job at a non-emergency medical transport company in April. A single mother of two, she didn’t receive her first unemployment benefits until June. She’s still working on getting a stimulus check from the government, and hasn’t paid her rent in months.
“It’s extremely hard, because I’m the only one here,” Mendoza told KPBS. “I’m supposed to keep my children safe and healthy. How am I supposed to do that when we’re about to get evicted when these moratoriums lift?”
She’s waiting for some plan to come together to help tenants deal with the months of unpaid rent, at a time when there’s no sign of economic recovery and low-income communities are being hit the hardest by the pandemic.
“Help us. Help us low-income communities,” Mendoza asked of the government. “Help our Black and brown brothers and sisters because we need this help right now. Who else can we go to? Our elected officials. They’re supposed to listen to us.”
Right now, the region has several overlapping moratoriums placed on possible evictions. But many of them have already expired or are set to expire within weeks. The eviction moratorium for the unincorporated areas of San Diego county expired on July 1st. The City of San Diego’s moratorium expires on September 30th, with renters allowed to make repayments until December 30th. The Chula Vista City Council just extended their moratorium until the end of August. Other cities have moratoriums, but it’s inconsistent throughout the county.
The most pressing date for San Diego residents is now August 14th, when the state’s judicial council could reopen eviction proceedings across the county in places without an ongoing moratorium. That means lawmakers at the local, state, and national level have two weeks to come up with some solution.
“This is much more about our ability to avoid a homelessness crisis, and another health crisis on top of the one we already have,” said Greg Knoll of the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, which represents some San Diego tenants in housing court.
The San Diego City Council voted in June to spend $15.1 million of federal CARES Act money to create an Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which would help around 3500 families pay their rent.
But that doesn’t come close to filling the financial obligations of San Diego’s renters, says Knoll.
“It’s going to take government dollars, whether it’s local, city, county, or state dollars, to help this crisis. This is no different than COVID-19. It’s a crisis that can explode all at once, all over us,” he told KPBS.
With unemployment benefits now cut nationwide, San Diego’s tenants and landlords have pinned their hopes on Sacramento. Bay Area Assemblymember David Chiu is the author of Assembly Bill 1436. It would allow renters in financial distress to stretch out their rent payments accrued during the pandemic until April 2022, and possibly beyond. It would also make it so unpaid rent during the pandemic can’t be the sole basis for an eviction.
“We all know that it is completely unreasonable to suggest that if you’ve been out of work, or seen your income drop dramatically, that come August 14th you’re going to magically have the money to pay any unpaid back rent you’ve accumulated over the past couple of months,” Chiu said.
The bill also includes mortgage forbearance provisions for landlords.
Last week, a group of landlords held a press conference in support of AB 1436. One of those was San Diego landlord Ginger Hitzke. She doesn’t want this housing crisis to be a repeat of 2008, where investors were able to move into a distressed housing market, buy foreclosed properties, and drive up rents.
“I feel like I’m looking at this thing from the perspective of a real estate professional. And it terrifies me because renters, particularly renters on the lower end of spectrum, they’re in the habit of being just people. They’re not real estate professionals, and they’re not going to know how to deal with this,” Hitzke said.
But not all landlords are quite on board with the bill. Todd Henderson is a fourth-generation San Diego landlord. He says that without more financial support, bills like AB 1436 could still leave tenants owing their landlords an insurmountable amount.
“Individuals who really are in those positions are probably going to pack up and leave in the middle of the night and that happens on a somewhat regular basis. The state is coming together with some proposals, but aren’t going far enough as far as the actual fiscal relief for renters,” Henderson said.
With the clock ticking, it’s now up to state legislators and Governor Gavin Newsom to craft a response to the looming eviction cliff that many other cities across America are now falling off of.
Tenants like Patricia Mendoza are counting on it.
“When we see Governor Newsom say, 'We’re in this together,' we just want to be accounted for. That’s it. We want to be in it together, that’s it,” Mendoza said.
With no money coming into the pockets of renters any time soon, and the economy in tatters, without state action the nationwide eviction crisis will have finally arrived in San Diego.