Tenants Need Stronger Protections

Housing groups throughout San Francisco are flagging major problems with Mayor London Breed’s  two executive orders that are intended to create an “eviction moratorium” for San Francisco tenants. Counselors at housing organizations say these protections, as well-intended as they are, leave tenants at high risk of potential eviction as April 1st draws near. At best, the protections simply defer the crisis for thousands of San Franciscans who do not know where their next paycheck will come from. 

Although San Francisco has among the strongest eviction protections in the country, unfortunately not everyone is protected. Even those tenants who are covered by the Mayor’s executive orders remain largely uninformed about the process for securing those protections, including the need to submit documentation with very specific language and by certain deadlines in order to avoid getting evicted. For many seniors and low-income tenants who rely on libraries and community organizations for access to computers and the internet, even writing and mailing a letter or sending an e-mail is a serious challenge during this public health crisis when these facilities are now closed. Also of paramount concern is how to pay once the emergency is over- even with the 6 month grace period.

“Tenant counseling organizations in San Francisco have been receiving calls from tenants who are scared and confused,” says Deepa Varma, Executive Director of the SF Tenants Union. “So many have lost their jobs, or have suffered severe cutbacks. They have either never heard of the Mayor’s order, or they heard something about it and have no idea what it means. Does it apply to them? Will they still have to pay the rent later?”

Rodrigo Lopez and his family are experiencing extreme hardship as a result of this crisis. Sr Lopez says, “I am worried for the economic problems we are facing right now due to COVID19; there is not enough work to pay the rent or bills. The little work that I have had is not enough, I’ve had to divide the money to cover food for 3 of us and also pay rent. My family and I have spent hours in ‘shelter in place’, which we were instructed by our Mayor and Governor of CA also taking care and protecting my family against COVID19. We ask the Governor of California to help us by canceling the rent starting on April 1st to help all low income tenants. Many of us survive month to month just enough to cover our rent and to eat. We cannot do this when we are being told that there is a “shelter in place order” that we have to follow and there is no work.” 

Tenants are faced with the impossible decision to accrue debt by not paying rent while not knowing when their income will be restored and they can pay it back. SFADC organizations encourage tenants to make use of existing protections like the eviction moratorium to prioritize their physical safety and ability to feed and care for their families and their health right now. 

“We encourage renters to make use of the protections we have already won and to join us in fighting for more,” says Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, Executive Director of Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. “We want tenants to know that we are fighting for statewide rent suspensions and relief funds so that our communities are not left under mountains of debt at the end of this public health crisis. This crisis cannot be on our backs as the real estate industry sees massive bailouts from all levels of government.”

Advocacy will continue to make sure there is a real eviction moratorium with no future obligation to pay rents that tenants are unable to pay because of the COVID-19 crisis. Measures enacted locally and at the State level need to assure tenants that they will be protected through this crisis and beyond. The relief payments from the federal government need to support people’s basic living and health expenses as unemployment skyrockets and many of our residents don’t qualify for unemployment benefits.

On March 13, Mayor Breed rolled out the first set of protections for renters unable to pay their April 1 rent. Ten days later, the Mayor expanded these protections to those living in affordable housing and “below market rate” or BMR housing where rents are controlled by the city. It also provides protection from “no fault” evictions like Owner-Move-Ins or renovations, and will apply to Ellis Act evictions as well if the Governor takes action to suspend the Ellis Act. The recent action by the Governor unfortunately was much weaker than Mayor Breed’s moratorium and did not address the Ellis Act.

As a former tenants rights attorney, District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston took the first step by introducing emergency legislation that led to the anti-eviction executive orders. “At the urging of tenant advocates, the City has taken some strong steps to support tenants and prevent evictions, but unfortunately what’s been rolled out so far doesn’t go far enough. The Governor should institute a statewide eviction moratorium, including Ellis Act evictions, and suspend rent and mortgage payments for the duration of this crisis. As elected leaders, it is our obligation to make sure people are safe and secure in their homes now more than ever.”  

The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development is the city agency responsible for writing the detailed rules and regulations for implementation of these orders. Tenants throughout San Francisco are confused and scared because they don’t have the latest information and they don’t know what to do.

District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney said, “If there isn’t a rent and mortgage moratorium, we’re going to see debt, foreclosures, and homelessness at levels we’ve never seen before. This would be an unprecedented step but we are in completely unprecedented times. This is the step we can take right now to give people the certainty, the confidence and do the right thing for public health.”

The SF Anti-Displacement Coalition is also advocating for the rights, health and safety of those who are currently living in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels and those without homes. SFADC fully supports the Coalition on Homelessness’ demand for Mayor Breed to use her emergency power to seize 9,000 hotel rooms to provide every homeless person with individual shelter, and to provide those living in SRO’s with individual spaces where they can quarantine safely. Congregate shelter facilities will only exacerbate the spread of the virus.

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