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Avoiding Eviction During COVID-19

 April 30, 2021 at 9:59 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 The money is there. So why are renters having a hard time getting help to avoid eviction? We go inside the complicated system of rent relief in California for fast food workers, dignity in the workplace goes beyond the fight for 15, how a San Diego lawmaker wants to give them more of a say in the industry. And what were you doing? 18 years ago? The media prepares to cover another California recall election in a much different landscape. I'm Maya [inaudible] and the KPBS round table starts. Now [inaudible] welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Maya [inaudible] joining me on this remote edition of the KPBS round table are Manuel Tobias housing reporter for Cal matters, junk park who covers economic inequality for the Sacramento bee and the San Diego union Tribune, editorial and opinion director. Matt hall May 1st is Saturday and the rent is due for millions of Californians. Speaker 1: 01:11 Just paying that essential cost is hard enough, especially in large cities like San Diego, but the pandemic made it even worse, especially for lower income families. Eviction moratoriums are only delaying what might be a tsunami of evictions when those protections finally end rent relief is available, but it's not as easy as it sounds. Manuela Tobias wrote about this for Cal matters and she joins us on the round table. Thanks for being here. Thanks for having me. We'll dive into some of the details and there are many in your piece, but let's begin with the bottom line. The state's eviction moratorium expires at the end of June. So what happens then for renters who have been struggling to keep up? So then Speaker 2: 01:55 End of the moratorium means that in short, if a person can't pay their full rent, beginning in July, they can be evicted. In other words, everything goes back to pre pandemic normal. However, the state law says that attendant who struggled to keep up with past rent will continue to be protected from eviction over non-payment of those past months. As long as they submitted at least 25% of their background and a declaration that their income was impacted by COVID Speaker 1: 02:25 Cal matters has followed the stories of renters throughout the pandemic, including a single mom. Her name is Patricia Mendoza and she's from Imperial beach. Why has she been receiving eviction notices? In fact three eviction notices despite this moratorium. Yeah. Speaker 2: 02:42 Yeah. So, um, Patricia story is really interesting because she was on the front lines advocating for the current rent relief law to pass. And my colleague Nigel Dora has been profiling her for the California divide. And she told us she felt great joy when the law passed, but when she found out she would be excluded, she was devastated. Basically the relief act, uh, gave landlords with qualifying tenants, the chance to get 80% of their back rent as long as they forgave the remaining 20%. But landlords could opt out of that relief. And that's what Patricia says her landlord is doing. So if landlords refuse to deal tenants, basically get the short end of the stick. They get 25% of background and some forward rent, which is the minimum to avoid eviction. And the reason that she was able to receive multiple eviction notices is that while the moratorium, uh, halted evictions over a non-payment of rent, all the other reasons that landlords can evict tenants are still available to them. Um, so that means remodeling the unit, which is what Patricia's landlord told her, told her he's doing, or having the owner move in or sell the property. And this particular property changed hands various times during the pandemic at the beginning of lockdown orders, the judicial council of California halted all evictions, no matter the reason. And that's what advocates were hoping to get into law this time around, but Speaker 1: 04:08 Landlords can receive 80% back rent if they forgive that remaining 20%, yet many choose not to accept this money. Why do they turn this down? There's a number of reasons. Speaker 2: 04:20 Um, some landlords are tired of empty promises. Um, they were excluded from previous rent relief efforts. There just wasn't enough money. And so they don't think it'll come through this time around and don't want to bother with it. Others don't want to jump through the hoops of submitting their federal tax, withholding forms, uh, lease mortgage information. Um, there's a lot of documents that they're asked to submit to get this rent relief. Other landlords just want their tenants out. And that's what advocates told us on the ground, especially in rent controlled units, like in Los Angeles in particular, where landlords might be happy to eat the loss. If it means getting their unit up to market rate, the law does protect tenants whose landlords opted out of receiving aid. Should they face eviction? But legal representation for tenants is really hard to come by. Especially right now. And many tenants are evicted outside the court, um, through harassment, for example, which advocates told us they're already Speaker 1: 05:19 KPBS reported this week on local rent relief efforts with the San Diego housing commission. They say they can't get enough applications, especially from the Latino community. Have you found that race and perhaps language is a hurdle for some of these families trying to navigate this complicated process? Speaker 2: 05:38 Yeah, for sure. The biggest hurdle is that most tenants don't know that this program exists. It's been hard to get the word out for the state and different counties, as well as community-based organizations. Some of them told us that they just don't have enough funding for the rollout because filling out the paperwork can take over an hour or multiple appointments per tenant. So it takes a lot of handholding and there's just not enough people to go around to do that, to get it to the people who need it. Most, a lot of people also find out about the program through their landlords who might not know about the program themselves, or may not be motivated to share that information with their tenants. So a good example is a person I spoke to in Salinas called [inaudible]. She's a former packing shed employee. Uh, she kept up with all her rent payments throughout the pandemic by borrowing from friends. So she owes about $3,000 and she didn't want to test the law out of fear of losing her home for her, her husband and her three kids. And because her rent is owed to friends and not a landlord, she isn't covered by the rent assistance program. Um, so that's one instance where even if the program can help people because of different sort of cultural understanding and understanding of the law, it just isn't going to be effective for a lot of those disenfranchised communities. Speaker 1: 07:07 Manuela, let's go back to, to Blanca and Salinas. You were talking about the everyday stressors that she's she's dealing with in your article, especially some health effects from contracting COVID what are some other compounding stressors that people who are dealing with Brent problems are also dealing with when it comes to things like food and healthcare and taking care of their families? Yeah, Speaker 2: 07:29 Definitely. Yeah. Blanca story was very powerful because not only is she dealing with having to pay her friends, uh, $3,000, um, that she owes and dealing with the shame that comes with owing people that you know, that much money, she also is suffering from very extreme lingering effects of COVID-19. So she contracted the illness back in January, and she still feels a lot of pain when she lies down to sleep. For example, she feels that there's shards of glass cutting into her back and her lungs. And she told me that she wishes she could be sort of crouched down, um, squatting. So that, that back pain doesn't feel so extreme. And she has three kids who are all navigating remote learning. That's also what Patricia is, is dealing with as well. She's a single mom of two kids trying to navigate school childcare, trying to get a job while she still has to take care of her kids. So people are facing a lot of stress from all of the things of COVID all of the, all of the effects of the pandemic, and still having to, to navigate the question of paying back their rent and keeping up with future rent from Speaker 1: 08:56 Your article. It sounds like some tenants found out the hard way that, that they do not qualify for rent relief. What were some of those reasons? Yeah. Speaker 2: 09:04 So I spoke with one tenant Ryan for camp in Oakland who moved out of his apartment with his wife, and we're here to save on rent. And his landlord told him his debt totals over $25,000. But because he moved voluntarily, he isn't eligible for stent state rent relief. That's because the rent relief only covers people who are still in their apartment because it's designed to prevent people from eviction, not to help people bear the burden of COVID-19 and how it may have devastated their finances. So people like him are still on the hook for, for that money. Speaker 1: 09:50 And obviously there's a lot to the story and Manuel, you covered very well. I've been speaking with Manuela Tobias from Cal matters. Thank you. Thank you for having me. This was great. May 1st is not just rent day. It's also may day or international workers' day. It's often used to launch campaigns and demonstrate for better worker protections. A big part of that is the fight for 15, which president Joe Biden mentioned this week and his first address to Congress Speaker 2: 10:23 Things in my desk, that's raised the minimum wage to $15 Speaker 1: 10:29 On a smaller scale. California is looking at ways to help low wage workers. That includes a plan by San Diego lawmakers to give fast food workers more of a say in their industry. Joining us is Junge park who covers economic inequality for the Sacramento bee. Hello, John. Hello. Good to be here. You open up your piece with a woman who was working at McDonald's. Tell us what she said about some of the conditions that she had to endure. Speaker 3: 10:55 I talked with a Waco named Lydia Aguilar. She works at a McDonald's in LA and she had been working there for 17 years and she initially didn't have a mask or pocket protection. And she was also saying that invoicing social distancing was very hard and she was seeing other workers being sent to clean other stories where she knew there was a COVID case. So there was all of this different concerns about working conditions. And when she started speaking out about this, she had, uh, she went on a strike, um, and she then filed a CA Oh, it's a complaint. She said that she had some of her, our spending card and she was being forced to do more work. She felt like she was being retaliated. And, um, eventually in February, the department of industrial relations issued a fine for the fine tights that had employed her for, for firing her for speaking out and for retaliation. And that led her, like Speaker 1: 11:54 You said to activism for fast food workers and support a bill proposed by San Diego assembly, woman, Lorena Gonzalez. So she wants to create the fast food sector council. How would this help workers in having more of a say in pay structure and regulations and other such things? Speaker 3: 12:13 That's very unique as far as I know, um, based on my conversation with expo 10 and assuming woman, there's not really any other States that has done something like this, the CODIS example, be New York, where in 2015, governor Andrew Cuomo has set up a panel that ultimately led to a $15 minimum minimum wage for the festival workers. But what this council would do is either have a members of state agencies at wallets, businesses, and employees still be two representatives from the employees and three opportunity for the advocates of the employees. So there'll be four members out of the 11 members that be off the workers or some relations to the workers. Speaker 1: 12:55 So many of these restaurants, they're they're chain restaurants like McDonald's and those are operated by franchisees. How would the Gonzalez bill also hold corporations accountable for any labor law violations? Speaker 3: 13:09 What the pills do is that obviously right now, a lot of the fast food stores are Fantayzee owned, meaning that McDonald's wasted another business or another post center who would manage the store and use the branding of McDonald's. What the spear would do is that it would hold businesses like McDonald's or other big, fast food chains liable for labor law violations by the franchisees McDonald's will be held liable, jointly, held liable for that violation as well. The idea is that by doing so McDonald and other big tasks for companies would be more inclined to, you know, give the fan Titus more money and more flexibility to navigate this labor laws and actually provide good working conditions for the workers. So McDonald's is in the one getting punished for it. Speaker 1: 13:58 There's opposition to this idea as well. And some of that comes from the restaurant industry itself. Why is the California restaurant association against it, Speaker 3: 14:07 California Western association I'll use that. That would effect effectively kill the franchise model because it will not, it either not give any incentive for McDonald's to, to fantasize it's it stores McDonald's could just decide to one all of its stories by itself, because they think it's less of a headache than trying to figure out what the fan type fantasy does on a, on a daily basis. And the other opposition comes from the argument that the fast food industry should not be targeted, that it, the letter that's sent by California Western association and the chamber or use that does nationally does national companies are more inclined to get PPE and other protections because they have more for it. That that industry is, you know, not it's susceptible to the label of violations, violations, or unsafe working conditions as maybe some of the smaller restaurants. So that's the argument that they've been making as to why the spirit is not necessarily on this bill might be harmful to the industry. Speaker 1: 15:09 So is there an issue only in focusing on the fast food chains and what about the more traditional and the sit-down restaurants? Speaker 3: 15:18 I think that's the issue that all associations have is that fast food industry face a similar issues at other smaller westerns. And the argument is they are all facing this issue. Why should fast-food westbound to be the one that's targeted to the spill? The argument, otherwise that I've heard from talking with [inaudible] and others is that fast food companies make a lot of money, make billions of dollars a year because of their scale and that they are more equipped to handle those provisions of the bill compared to more mom and pop restaurants that are, that are struggling by the thread. Um, and I think the other other argument is that unlike many sit down westerns festival westerns cap, staying open during the pandemic. Speaker 1: 16:05 So fast food jobs might be viewed as short term, not something that people stay in for a long period of time. What should people know about these jobs and why workers feel invested enough to advocate for better conditions and put in the time and the effort that it takes to bring about change? Speaker 3: 16:23 So, coming in, I think a lot of people think of Fest for the worker says, Oh, a high school graduates or people in high school doing this work on the side, but a study from UCLA labor center and UC Berkeley labor center actually found that 38% of the fast food workers for twenty-five or orders. So that's an example of why, um, how lot of festivals, what coasts are not people who are know doing this oncologist. They are, you know, breadwinners, sometimes they're primary breadwinners that are feeding their family. And that a lot of them have been in this industry for a long time. Um, legit for instance, have been working at McDonald's for more than 15 years. And she's not the only one. So that has given a lot of motives for those, for the workers to speak out for a better working condition. Speaker 1: 17:11 Okay. So all of this is a long-term issue within the industry, but restaurants also have a more immediate challenge in hiring enough workers to keep up the reopening economy, how are low pay and work conditions, a central part of this issue as well. Speaker 3: 17:28 Uh, it's, it's interesting. And, and I haven't had a chance to do that reporting on this. I will say that my colleague in, at the bee has done a lot of reporting on this because she, uh, he Cabos food and restaurant business for us. And, uh, he has, he spoke with one of the sober in Sacramento who said that a lot of her coworker got a temporary job at the EDD, uh, which, you know, she hopes to tiny into which they hope to turn into full-time jobs and that those cooks voice starting their own pop-ups. So food trucks that are more flexible that are not as tied to restaurants. And I think all of this is an example of workers thinking about making career changes and, and thinking about how they find a lot of the working conditions and paid to not be acceptable and that, you know, the pandemic has exemplified that for them. And, and that has given them a motive to look for a better career within the industry or a different industry altogether. Speaker 1: 18:23 So for AB two, five, seven Lorena Gonzalez as bill, where does that stand now? And what kind of timeline are we looking at Speaker 3: 18:31 In the assembly appropriations committee, where all the bills with fiscal impact, that's reviewed it. Proponents expect the bill to get a full floor vote in the next few weeks, perhaps by the end, Speaker 1: 18:43 I've been talking with John Park reporter for the Sacramento beat. Thank you so much for your reporting and for joining me on the round table, Joan, thank you so much. It's happening for the first time in 18 years, a recall campaign against a sitting governor has succeeded exact details need to be sorted out, but this fall Californians will decide if they want to replace Gavin Newsome. And if so, who will finish the final year of his term, the reasons for this recall have been covered all week and you can find those Today, we focus on the media perspective and joining us to talk about the San Diego union Tribune. His approach to covering this unique occasion is Matt hall, the UTS editorial and opinion director. Hi, Matt, Speaker 4: 19:29 Happy to be here. Speaker 1: 19:30 So let's start with, what's changed in the last couple of decades. The last time California had a recall was back in 2003 with then governor gray Davis, who was recalled over the state budget in terms of the media, what was the landscape like then Speaker 4: 19:45 Totally different? You know, newspapers had much larger staffs, more people read them, uh, more people advertised in them. You know, it was totally different, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. I think now you're obviously going to have a different dynamic with social media and everything from Tik TOK to Twitter, you know, you're going to see these candidates kind of, uh, are looking to get votes and you're going to see journalists interacting and members of the public, and probably some bots talking about all of this, but at its root, there are some really big issues and those will get covered to the depth that they got covered 18 years ago, Speaker 1: 20:20 And written 35 people ran in the gubernatorial recall, which resulted in Republican Arnold, Schwartzenegger emerging as the winning candidate in 2003, the union Tribune's editorial board says it will try to focus on only the serious candidates. Well, without primaries to narrow that race, how will the paper judge who the serious candidates are? Speaker 4: 20:40 Yeah, very subjective. It's a great question. And I appreciate you asking it the various objective effort, and we'll try to be transparent and explain to what our criteria is. That's how we've always handled endorsements. You know, we have an editorial early on that, that, that, um, that we write that says, you know, here are the criteria that we look at and basically what it boils down to is can you do the job? Have you done the work? And, and will you do the work? Like those are the three questions and those again are subjective, but it really, for us, it doesn't your political party doesn't matter. We've endorsed Democrats, we've endorsed Republicans. You know, I would say if someone were to do an audit, they'd probably see that in recent years, we've endorsed more Democrats than Republicans because frankly jungle primaries mean that in a lot of cases, there are only two Democrats on the ballot. Speaker 4: 21:30 And frankly, the Republican party has, you know, uh, needs to kind of, um, find a better path forward on several issues, starting with, uh, immigration, starting with climate change, starting with, uh, you know, the border. And so we will factor our positions that we've taken in recent years as a board, along with what some of these candidates bring to the table that are clearly some that are just going to be in it. You mentioned 135. I, you know, we called that kind of a clown car, uh, in, in 2003, which it really was, uh, you know, I, I think if you go back and I just love to go back and do the math, there were three of those, 135 candidates, they got 92% of the vote. So it really, you know, people didn't take those folks seriously. And so we'll look and obviously, you know, former mayor, Kevin Faulkner former congressional leader, Doug, Oh, is a serious candidate. Speaker 4: 22:23 John Cox, uh, has run before and then we'll go down the list and we'll see. And we also to, uh, kind of a granular detail, but you read it, your listeners might be interested in, we may bring some in person. And then we may have a second tier where we bring, you know, send them an email because that's easy in this day and age. Uh, we wouldn't do that with 135 people. I don't think we might, you know, we might, but we certainly wouldn't have all the space to run it in the newspaper. Uh, but then again, uh, as you all know, digital space is limitless. So Speaker 1: 22:54 Mentioned former San Diego mayor, Kevin Faulkner, who has spent the past few months as a hopeful governor and waiting, if you will saying that he's going to run in the recall or in 2022, there's also San Diego area, businessman, John Cox, who wants another crack at Newsome, as well as other candidates that you mentioned. So if Republicans are successful, is our next governor likely to be from San Diego? Speaker 4: 23:17 I mean, I think if you were going to bet, it's a pretty safe bet that that Newsome will not be recalled. Anything can happen in, in politics. There's only ever been one successful, uh, recall of a governor in California and only a couple others that have been attempted nationally. So this is pretty unusual territory. So the answer to your question is, I think right now some of the early, um, people on the ballot are from San Diego. And I think that's interesting to note there was also talk of, uh, Rick, Rick Grinnell, uh, getting into the race who was a former, uh, aid for, um, ex mayor Susan Golden, and then went on to work in the Trump administration. So San Diego may have an out-sized role in this election. At least the candidates will know where to find it on a map. Speaker 1: 24:03 I failed to ask earlier when we were talking about interviewing candidates, logistically speaking, especially now, while people are working remotely, how will you be interviewing these candidates? Speaker 4: 24:14 Yeah, that's a good question. You know, we had to pivot, uh, in the 2020 elections and we did it on zoom, uh, and it actually was really effective. And I think there's a great value to having a candidate in the room, you know, shaking their hand, seeing their body language, seeing how they react to questions. You know, it, it, it's, it's almost easier, both from a logistical perspective and from a candidate perspective, to be able to sit there, you know, with their notes in front of them and maybe reading them as they're on the computer. But, uh, you know, I think it worked really well. We shared our, we interviewed our candidates and shared the video and they were there for everyone to watch. And if they really wanted to go deep and spend time, and I think that's helpful because people can not only judge the candidates, they can judge the board themselves and, and see if our questions were, you know, uh, righteous or, or leading or inappropriate. And so I'm happy to put ourselves in that spotlight too. I think that's helpful. And no matter how it progresses, I think transparency is going to be the key and letting, uh, news consumers, uh, just see, um, see the process. Speaker 1: 25:19 Well, Matt, we will be watching the union Tribune's coverage as the field takes shape. I've been speaking with Matt hall, editorial and opinion director for the San Diego union Tribune. Thanks, Matt. I appreciate it. And that wraps up this week's edition of the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests. Manuel Tobias from Cal matters, John Park from the Sacramento bee and Matt hall from the San Diego union Tribune. If you missed any part of our show, you can listen to anytime on the KPBS round table podcast. I'm Maya [inaudible]. Thanks for listening and join us next week on the round table.

Struggles in accessing and using rent relief programs in California, a San Diego lawmaker wants to give fast-food workers more of a voice in the industry, and how San Diego's largest newspaper plans to cover the upcoming recall election.