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Evictions in a pandemic, part 1: As protections end, who stays housed

 December 15, 2021 at 8:57 AM PST

Waterfall of voices


What do we mean when we say we’re home?


It can be the place you grew up,

where you're raising your family,

<< Ambient of Ramon’s family>>

the place your friends gather,

a place you only sleep at,

or even your dog that never leaves your side…


can have as many meanings as there are ways of saying it.

But on March 19th 2020 … home quickly came to mean one thing for Californians lucky enough to be housed.

.. Shelter and safety from COVID-19.


In the weeks and months that followed….

The state and federal government enacted a series of laws and programs to keep people housed.

As the economy ground to a stand still …

and unemployment in California soared

eviction protections…

and then rental assistance programs…

sought to help renters and landlords…

Si no tienes casa, donde vas a parar?

<<If you don’t have a home, where are you going to rest?>>

Ramon Toscano and his wife Cristina have lived in their two-bedroom Vista apartment for the past six years.

Together with their six children… who range in age from 12 years old to an infant that’s just a few months old… and Cristina’s mother… they have made the small apartment their home.

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Before the pandemic Ramon worked 30-40 hours a week as a day laborer.

And… he made it work.

It could and did get tight by the time the end of the month came around. Paying over $1700 rent on top of electricity...internet…And feeding growing kids

wasn’t easy…

But...he paid his bills.

When the pandemic hit and shelter in place was enforced in California…though…

The work quickly dried up…

And Ramon was scared to venture out.

“Hasta uno mismo le da miedo salir. Miraba en la tele que muria gente y los cosas iba pa’ arriba pues hasta yo tenia miedo. ”

Even I was afraid to go out. I saw on TV that people were dying. And how things were going. And well, even I was afraid.

As the months passed without work.

It started to get harder to pay rent …

Finally... in June 2021...

Ramon got rental assistance from the county to pay all his back rent.

When things began to open up again, Ramon began to pick up work.

BUT then Cristina, who was pregnant with their baby, began to feel sick.

Her blood pressure spiked and she was put on bedrest.

These days, In order to help Cristina with the newborn and their other five children, Ramon stays home during the week.

There’s no money for child care.

And Cristina?

She can’t do it alone.

Cualquier problema. Yo sé que mi esposo está conmigo y él me ayuda a salir adelante. Es que me ha ayudado. Es quien me ha cuidado. [00:15:53][11.6]

<Whatever the problem I know my husband is with me and that he will help me get ahead. He is the one that has helped me. He’s the one that’s taken care of me.>>

RAMON goes out on the weekends to pick up jobs,

but all the money he makes goes to food and other bills.

he NOW owes rent for July through October

It’s never been this tight before.

Si battamos para pagar la renta pero no tan asi que me meta la mano el pantalon y nunca tenga ni una moneda… es duro. <<We’ve struggled to pay rent before but not like this, where I stick my hand in my pocket and there’s not even a single coin>>

And … he’s worried.

It’s the kind of worry that sits heavy on his shoulders. What happens if he doesn’t get rental assistance … or what if the funds dry up.

Beat <<Music Bed>>

I’m Cristina Kim…

KPBS’s race and equity reporter.

And on this special two-part series of KPBS Investigates …

We’re taking a closer look at evictions… and the efforts to keep people housed here in San Diego County….

We’ll talk about, What worked,

who fell through the cracks.

and what’s next for the region’s renters and landlords as housing becomes increasingly more expensive and protections evaporate.

That’s happening next after a quick break.

Stay with us.

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Ramon looks thinner and more tired then we talked just a few months ago

the statewide eviction ban ended in late September…

and now…

he and his family are more vulnerable...than ever

It’s something his landlord was quick to remind him.

Vieno la mana y la supervisora recordarnos que ya prácticamente que ya no tenemos protección, pues que qué vamos a hacer.

O sea, nosotros ya sabiendo, pero viene a recordar, sino no sabíamos,

As we sit on the couch mere hours after his landlord’s visit, Ramon is trying to think through what comes next.

No tengo Plan B ser sincero, tal vez llegar a un acuerdo con los y los propietarios y empezar a pagar, pero por el momento no solamente estamos esperanzados antes de que nos puedan volver a ayudar

<<I don’t have a PLan B to be honest. Maybe I can reach an agreement with the landlords and start paying, but for now we’re just hoping we get help again >>

He’s already applied for more rental assistance….. and is keeping track of the application.

For now he’s got a place to stay.. But, like so many other tenants across San Diego county… the worries continue...

At the height of the pandemic,

tenant protections …….were a sometimes confusing patchwork of local, state and federal policies all working in conjunction….

But they all shared the same goal -- staving off an avalanche of evictions.

Waterfall of different newsclips

There was a lot happening and it was hard to keep track of it all.

I remember speaking to Anne Orchier (or-shay), a tenant in Los Angeles in September 2020 who told me keeping track of everything was overwhelming

Yeah because there all these different dates floating around and things are changing, it can become a full time job.


So let’s do a quick break down …

The federal government had a series of eviction protections that lasted until August 2021.

Meanwhile, the state of California and San Diego County also enacted a series of protections -- including an eviction ban that was extended twice.

Add to that …. rental assistance programs which provide money to landlords and tenants to keep people housed… It was a lot to keep track of

Now nearly two years after the California shelter in place order was first issued, we’re trying to make sense of where we are now and what actually worked.

There were so many moving parts and different institutions overseeing the various programs...

it wasn’t always an easy or clear road…

And some tenants still found themselves locked out.


Gabriel Guzman…. a veteran and father from Chula Vista… is sifting through a box filled with stacks of paper.

Over the past year, he’s documented and kept everything that’s happened to his family since the unexpected happened.

On the twenty third of September. They filed for an unlawful detainer and….The owner had gone on and on how he really appreciated veterans, what we did for this country. And and then he did that.

….An unlawful detainer.

In other words, he was evicted in the midst of the pandemic …something that totally CAUGHT him and his family off guard.

The lease on their Chula Vista apartment had expired just a few weeks earlier.

But Gabriel had been working with the landlord to extend it and was waiting on his unemployment to kick in in order to pay his rent.

He tried to fight the eviction in court...spending money he didn’t have to hire a lawyer ….

In the end though... it didn’t matter.

Despite all the protections…

Gabriel’s lease was up -- they lost the battle. . And on December 15th …

Ten days before Christmas…

Gabriel, his wife and their three children were homeless.

Yeah so we were actually without a place for a month. And that was really scary and a lot of anxiety attached to that. And even my youngest daughter, my three year old, would always ask when we were going home. She's like, I go home. She would cry. And even now she'll go from her room at night and cry, cry and two and kind of check to see whether we're there. We're in the same place. And so we don't know what the long term effects are going to be on all three of my kids.


Gabriel never thought he’d find himself looking for a new place during a pandemic with no job.

His once easy smile and gregarious laugh now have an edge of weariness he can’t shake.

I felt bad for my kids. I felt that I had let my kids down as a man, being able to support them, keep them, keep a roof over their head. As a veteran I was very upset, because I had given 9 years to my country...

He was able to find a new place, but his stepdaughter who is in a wheelchair is staying with her grandmother.

Because the apartment they are living in? now has stairs.

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Gabriel says that as a veteran he was used to taking care of himself.

He never applied for rental assistance even though he would have qualified.

I always felt that I would rebound. And I always felt like, you know what? Ler people that really need it, use it. Because when you know, when you think you need, or you're in a bad situation yourself, there's always someone else that needs it more than you do. So we just thought it was the right thing to do...let other people have access to it.

And he wasn’t the only one hesitant to apply for rental assistance when it first became available.

Many people didn’t know the funds existed -- or if they did… they were wary of them.

Money with no strings attached… seemed like too good of a deal ….

The state, county and city had to devise whole systems to distribute the money…while community groups worked to get the word out …

These days? The programs are working a lot better.

And as long as assistance funds are available -- tenants and landlords can use them to pay 100% of back and even future rent.

And landlords can’t evict tenants for nonpayment of rent if they can show they’ve applied for rental assistance…

But for some mom and pop landlords... these continued protections are problematic and feel uneven.

I’m seeing my savings dwindle and my credit card debt rise. I’m feeling afraid and hopeless about the situation.

Landlords like Katy, who doesn’t want us to use her last name because she’s afraid it might impact her small business.

She never thought she would be both a landlord and a tenant.

I purchased a condo and I lived there for about five years and then I had just kind of gotten tired of the area. It's a very urban area, a lot of density. So I really had a longing for something that was a little more spacious and I rented out my condo, found a place that I have loved that was you know just much more peaceful.

Katy moved out and had a good run of tenants...for awhile.

Then, in June 2019, a new tenant moved in--she had issues with her pretty quickly.


She was late on rent, didn’t get rental insurance, and Katy is pretty sure she has a dog even though she’s not supposed to. Then COVID came.


And while her tenant still had a job, she eventually stopped paying rent.

She managed to pay rent all the way through the end of September of 2020. It was late a lot and at one point, she made the money order out to herself instead of me. And then subsequently lost the mailbox keys. So there was a lot of complexity with what was going on.

Katy got some money through a city rental relief program that goes to landlords.

And her tenant got rental assistance to pay back rent.

They both have applications in to the city for more funds.

But as they wait to hear back, Katy feels stuck.

She can’t evict her tenant but she isn’t collecting the rent.

As of November 1, my tenant will owe over $7000 in back rent. She has not resumed paying rent and I have no reason to expect she will do so in November despite having reason to believe she’s employed.


As she waits to hear if she’s been approved for more city funds…

Katy still has to pay rent on her own home.

Plus fees for the condo she’s renting.

Without information about whether the rental relief applications will be kept in indefinite limbo, I can’t make a good choice about whether I should consider moving back into the condo or selling it.

Katy says with all of this stress, whenever she gets things finally sorted out, she’ll just put the condo into property management.

They’ll raise the rent, which Katy feels bad about.

But she doesn’t want to deal with the hassle anymore.

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The past year and half hasn’t been easy for Landlords like Katy or for tenants like Ramon or Gabriel.

And now as we HOPEFULLY come out of the darkest parts of the pandemic and society begins to open up…

We’re left wondering… what did all these millions of dollars in relief achieve?

We asked Molly Kirkland - she’s the spokesperson for the Southern California Rental Housing Association, which represents landlords.


I think it's made a hefty impact in our region. Specifically, the San Diego region has fared way better than lots of other parts of the country, where in some cases they weren't successfully able to get any money out and they've had their programs kind of taken away from them. So San Diego is really kind of a model for emergency rental assistance. And nothing is perfect but we’re really proud of our local programs...

The housing association recently commissioned a study on how landlords fared during the pandemic.

Our study showed that about $2.4 billion in lost rent for San Diego area housing providers, and this goes back to about March of 2020. Or, you know, when the pandemic started.

Molly says eviction bans led to some abuses - like what we heard about from Katy.

But she understands why they were put in place. Moving forward, she wants to see some of the pandemic programs continue.

There's a need for some sort of permanent form of rental assistance out there because, you know, it shouldn't necessarily take a pandemic to highlight how the loss of a job can impact you for a few months. This happens outside of pandemic times.

Looking back, ...even though tenants like Gabriel slipped through the cracks and were still evicted…

We now know the eviction bans and rental assistance have kept thousands of families safe in their homes.

The number of unlawful detainers or evictions filed in the San Diego County Superior Court dropped 62 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to records obtained by ACCE, a local tenants group.

And Legal Aid Society of San Diego, which handles a lot of local eviction cases… said the demand for their services dropped when county and state protections were in place.

But … Now that the protections are largely gone….the number of calls are on the rise again…

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And so...if we have hundreds of thousands of families who who, who don't, who can't pay the rent and are being evicted for nonpayment of rent, they're not only going to be suffer housing instability, it's going to be difficult for them to rent again

Gilberto Vera is the senior attorney for the housing team at the Legal Aid Society of San Diego.

He’s expecting an increase in eviction filings in December… which will affect tenants for years to come.


One, they could have an eviction on the record. Two, hey're going to get a negative reference, likely from the landlord who is evicting them. And then three, they're going to be saddled with thousands of dollars of rental debt to their current landlord when they do eventually move. So it's it's going to make it not only hard to find housing, but it's going to impact their credit for years.


If the eviction cliff that so many have warned about is drawing closer…. We are now standing on the edge looking down.


And that's definitely taking a toll on families like Ramon and Cristina in Vista.

The constant threat of eviction … of not knowing what’s going to happen the next day.

Cristina says it impacted her pregnancy.

“Todo el estrés, yo pienso que fue lo que me llevó a tener la presión alta durante el embarazo, porque los embarazos anteriores nunca había padecido de presión alta…”

<<All the stress, I think it’s what caused me to have blood pressure during my pregnancy because in all my former pregnancies I NEVER had high blood pressure. My son would come and say yeah yeah, don’t cry mommy, and I would tell my husband I don’t know what’s going on.]

And she says the stress.. is also impacting Ramon.

Yo sé que tiene mucha presión y lo admiro porque nunca, nunca ha venido y me ha dicho sabes que ya no puedo. Yo nada más veo que se encierra en el baño y yo por ahí estalla el solo.

<<I know that he has a lot of pressure and I admire him because he’s never come to me and said I can’t do it anymore. I just see that he locks himself in the bathroom and there he’s alone.>>


The past few months are catching up on Ramon.

He chokes up remembering how he had to collect cans and glass in order to make enough change to pay for gas to take Cristina to her doctor’s appointments.

But through the tears… his determination shines through.

There’s no other option but to keep going for Cristina and his kids.

No, de Durga no! Pero como le digo, no? No me tengo que dejar caer por los niños, me entiendo porque no saben. Tenemos que echar ganas y salir adelante.

<<Like I said, They don’t know, we gotta keep trying and get ahead, you know. Here we are trying our hardest, for the kids, they don’t know what’s going on. But we have to keep trying for them. And keep fighting until the end and stay here>>

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Ramon is waiting to hear back if he will receive rental assistance for the back rent he owes for the summer and possible future rent.

That’s all he and other California tenants have left in terms of protections.

But he doesn’t know how much longer he can wait.


Some of Cristina’ friends just moved to Kansas.

And now she and Ramon are thinking that they might try to move out there too…

where it’s cheaper, where there’s a job waiting, and where they can get a house….

Even if it’s far from home.

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On the next episode of this special KPBS Investigates’ On Evictions --

What’s happens when San Diegans are forced to leave?

There's so many people still here and they can't find a place….there's too many people here now. They're still looking for a place...still.

We take a closer look at what’s happening in San Diego as rental and housing prices continue to climb … and more and more people are at risk of evictions.

This special KPBS Investigates episode was written, reported and hosted by me, Cristina Kim and investigative reporter Claire Trageser. Rebecca Chacon and Mike Damron helped with sound, Kinsee Morlan and Alisa Barba helped produce and edit the show. And Emily Jankowski did the sound design.

If you think stories like this one are important and you want to keep hearing them, consider supporting KPBS by becoming a member.

Go to kpbs dot org and look for the blue give now button.

Thanks for listening.

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Ramon Toscano and his son Ramoncito at their apartment in Vista, California, June 14, 2021.
Cristina Kim / KPBS
Ramon Toscano and his son Ramoncito at their apartment in Vista, California, June 14, 2021.
The pandemic inspired a slate of local, state and national eviction bans, and other protections for homeowners and renters to keep people housed. But those protections are going away, leaving renters especially vulnerable to eviction as the San Diego rental market heats up.

In Part 1 of a 2 part series, KPBS Race and Equity reporter Cristina Kim looks at the efforts to keep people housed here in San Diego County. We talk about what worked, and who fell through the cracks, and what’s next for the region’s renters and landlords as housing becomes increasingly more expensive and protections evaporate. We also learn about the toll that the threat of evictions places on families and children.