With San Diego's COVID tenant protections expiring, some renters worry about where to live
Rahmo Abdi is a mother of six who rents a home in City Heights. She's lived in the San Diego neighborhood for decades after leaving behind a life in Somalia.
"So I grew up in City Heights as well, and when my family was renting, it looked like community. It looked like where all families stay together," Abdi told KPBS.
She loves City Heights but is worried that her community of fellow immigrants and refugees will be split up.
That's because Emergency COVID-19 tenant protections are set to phase out on Sept. 30, and she said more of her friends and neighbors will be forced to move away. For decades, City Heights has been an affordable place for immigrants to live because of cheap rents.
"Now, because City Heights is getting expensive because of the lack of protections we have, everybody is spreading out and moving out and being displaced," she said.
Abdi works at Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, or PANA.
Her colleague Asma Abdi is PANA's policy associate. The two are not related. Asma Abdi said San Diego needs further tenant protections and is urging the City Council to take action.
"It means that many families, even if they do absolutely everything right — they pay their rent on time, they don't violate their lease agreement — they can still be at risk for eviction," Asma Abdi said. "It creates a lot of uncertainty in our community and people don't know whether or not they remain in their homes."
Once the no-fault protections expire, the city will be left with its Tenants' Right to Know ordinance.
It requires landlords to provide at least one of nine listed reasons before terminating a lease with a renter who has lived at a property for more than two years.
Rahmo Abdi is worried the prior ordinance will allow for landlord abuse in an expensive housing market.
"I'm very nervous. Every day we see community members walk into our office having eviction letters and getting evicted," she said. "Sometimes their rent increased, which they can not afford to pay."
Rahmo Abdi said the issue is greater than rent increases and unethical landlords alone.
"We really really need more affordable housing where families can afford to live in City Heights," she said.
San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera said he submitted a potential set of updates for the tenant protection ordinance to the city attorney's office.
"There's additional legal review that the city attorney's office has suggested would need to or should be done prior to the council considering the item," he said.
Asma Abdi said PANA's goal is to update the city of San Diego's 2004 Right to Know law to a stronger Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO).
"We are hoping that the tenant protections ordinance will provide stronger protections for our low-income, elderly, disabled and terminally ill tenants — some of our most vulnerable community members. And allow them the right to relocation payments in the event that they are evicted," she said.
Current state law — with some exceptions — limits rent increases at 10%.
While that sounds like a lot, Lucinda Lilley of Southern California Rental Housing Association said landlords have also faced difficult circumstances over the past few years.
"We couldn't terminate a tenancy even if there was an extremely bad actor on a property. So rental housing providers have really risen to this," she said.
Lilley wants solutions for struggling renters but stands against any form of extending the protections.
"This isn't going to result in an avalanche of people getting termination notices for no reason," Lilley said. "Just cause is just cause, and if an owner needs to move into a property, then they need to move into a property. If they need to sell because they can no longer afford to support the property, then they need to be able to do that."
The affordable housing crisis has been magnified in San Diego and other cities across the state, especially for low-income earners.
Elo-Rivera said he wants to help San Diegans living in fear of rent increases and displacement while also preventing homelessness in a "cutthroat" housing market.
"Any protection that goes away that makes it easier for folks to be evicted and put out into the rental market is one that creates added vulnerability. And that concerns me," the San Diego City Council president said.
While time is of the essence for many renters, it could be a while before any form of the TPO can be enacted.
It needs to go through a full legal review with the City Attorney's Office and then go back before the full City Council.
With the rising cost of overall living, many tenants are being pushed over the edge.
"Luckily, I have four bedrooms, but some other families can not afford to rent four bedrooms," Rahmo Abdi said. "That's why there's a lot of hidden homelessness in our community where families are doubling up in one bedroom, two bedrooms because they can not afford the rent."
PANA said the updated ordinance would close loopholes that landlords can use to wrongfully evict families.
It would also require landlords to provide relocation assistance to tenants who face no-fault evictions.
The San Diego City Council and County Board of Supervisors want to set a goal of building 10,000 affordable homes on publicly owned land by 2030. Then, emergency COVID-19 tenant protections are set to end Friday in the city of San Diego and some renters are worried their housing situations could be in jeopardy. Next, a new report from the San Diego Hunger Coalition finds nearly 40 percent of Black and Latino San Diegans are experiencing food insecurity. Then, questions are being raised about why the California Department of Education has not yet released its statewide school test results from the spring. Finally, what can California’s Reparations Task Force learn from the Japanese American movement for redress?
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