By SUNITA SOHRABJI/EMS Contributing Editor
AB 3088, an emergency bill to stave off evictions for 4.3 million California renters, was passed at the 11th hour Aug. 31 by the state Legislature. But Assemblyman David Chiu, chair of the Housing and Community Development Committee, who headed up the effort to get a bill passed before the Legislature went into recess, said the measure is a temporary fix to the long-standing crisis of affordable housing in the state.
“This is not the bill that I had wanted to pass,” said Chiu at a Sept. 2 briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services. Chiu had introduced AB 1436 in June, and said his original bill offered much more significant set of solutions for tenants.
“There was much more that I wanted in the final bill, much more that I fought for at the negotiation table, and so much more that is needed to protect tenants. But the choice we were faced with wasn’t between AB 3088 and a stronger version, but between the bill that we just passed versus nothing. The consequences of doing nothing are just too dire to comprehend,” said the Assemblyman, who represents San Francisco.
Chiu noted that the economic hit of the pandemic has disproportionately impacted people of color: three quarters of those facing evictions are Black or Latinx, he said.
“AB 3088 is an imperfect but necessary solution to a colossal problem, but it is not the ultimate solution to covid-19 evictions,” said Chiu, stating it was a temporary fix until the Legislature comes up with a more permanent solution, and perhaps one that includes a new White House administration.
“Our hope is that in late January, we may have a new federal Administration that could provide financial relief to struggling landlords and tenants,” he said, noting that the Trump Administration has not engaged with Congress on the critical issue.
AB 3088 was signed into law Aug. 31 by California Governor Gavin Newsom. The bill protects tenants who faced eviction beginning Sept. 2, the day after the California Judicial Council’s statewide moratorium on evictions expired. The Council had stated it would not renew the moratorium, leaving the state Legislature scrambling to come up with a solution before they went into recess Aug. 31.
AB 1436 gave tenants a 12-month grace period to pay back rent which had accrued during the emergency period. Tenants could not be evicted from their homes during that period, which stretched out to April of 2022.
The bill also protected small landlords with four or fewer units from being foreclosed upon for a year. AB 1436 passed through the Senate Judiciary committee Aug. 18 and then cleared the Senate Appropriations committee two days later.
But the California Apartment Association — which vehemently opposed the bill, saying it would allow even those who could pay their rent to skip payments — negotiated heavily with members of the Senate and the Governor’s office, to get a more landlord-friendly bill passed.
AB 3088 was introduced on Aug. 28. The bill extends the state’s eviction moratorium to Jan. 31, 2021. Tenants must sign a declaration under penalty of perjury showing proof of economic hardship related to COVID-19. The declaration must be signed before Oct. 5. Chiu clarified at the briefing that a tenant’s savings would not be taken into account for determining hardship.
Tenants must also pay at least 25 percent of their rent during the grace period which began Sept. 2. If a tenant is unable to come up with 25 percent of their rent for one month, they would still be protected if — by Jan. 31, 2021 — they had managed to pay off 25 percent for all five months.
The remaining rent, plus rent owed before the bill passed, would be converted into a civil liability. Landlords can take their tenants to small claims court beginning Feb. 1, 2021, but they cannot evict them for past due rent.
The bill would also enact the COVID-19 Small Landlord and Homeowner Relief Act of 2020 which mandates that mortgage servicers must work with small landlords and property owners to ward off foreclosures.
A short while after Chiu’s briefing with EMS, Newsom, at his daily noon press briefings, announced his “Housing is Key” initiative, aimed at providing resources to renters and landlords experiencing economic hardship due to COVID-19. The campaign will be run by the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency and can be viewed at housingiskey.com.
“Having a home is fundamental to all that we do,” said BCSH Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramírez, during the governor’s press briefing.
The governor also updated reporters on the status of Project Roomkey, which provided shelter to homeless people during the pandemic. Thus far, 22,000 people have been moved into 16,400 rooms at 344 hotels or motels, announced Newsom. 55 counties and three Native American tribes have been served.
The state has allocated $1.25 billion in aid for housing in this year’s budget. $600 million of that will be given over to Project Homekey, an initiative allowing the state to purchase motels, hotels, and similar structures to convert them into permanent housing.
“Shelters only solve sleep. Housing provides stability,” said Newsom, adding: “COVID has allowed to create a necessary manifest on housing and self-sufficiency.”
138 applications have already been approved. The state expects to buy up those properties by the end of the year at market or below market rates.