Hundreds of faith and community leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area are calling on California state officials to extend the eviction moritorium and expand eligibility critieria for SB 91.
On Thursday, June 3, at 6 PM, Roman Catholic Diocese of San José Bishop Cantú along with 500 other faith and community leaders from California Industrial Areas Foundation (including leaders and community members of 13 the South Bay and Silicon Valley faith-based and nonprofit groups) will meet on Zoom with state lawmakers to call on Governor Gavin Newsom to extend the eviction moratorium and amend SB 91 to allow more flexibility with rental assistance.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated low-income Californians," the Community Equity Collaborative stated. "More than half of the state’s workers who lost jobs over the last 14 months earn less than $50,000 per year. As a result, over a million California households were behind on rent by the end of 2020, collectively owing nearly $4B according to the Bay Area Equity Atlas. "
California counties have only distributed what actvisits say is a fraction of the $2.6B that arrived from the US Treasury in December. Another $2.6B has become available through the American Rescue Plan. Affordable housing activists say landlords and renters need more time to apply and receive assistance.
“We’re working around the clock to get this relief to our families,” said Marie Bernard, Executive Director of Sunnyvale Community Services, one of the programs working to distribute Santa Clara County’s allocation of relief funds. “But we need more time. The application process is lengthy and complicated. Even our tech-savvy, English-fluent clients are having a hard time; imagine what it’s like for families without reliable internet access who are trying to complete the application in their non-native language using a phone (including uploading multiple documents). June 30, the date the moratorium expires, is too soon to serve all of these families. We’ve got to keep them in their homes.”
The housing activists say that many families are not eligible for relief through SB 91; and that many of those are California’s most vulnerable renters and some include many undocumented people. The legislation in effect now provides relief only to tenants who owe back rent directly to their landlords. However, activists say, many residents borrowed money from family, friends, payday lenders and even loan sharks to “make rent” and keep a roof over their heads.
“Our hearts ache at the rent debt crisis that’s been building over the pandemic when the most vulnerable among us have been unable to pay their rent,” said The Rev. Shelley Booth Denney, Rector of The Episcopal Church in Almaden. “The current inflexible rules for distribution of rent relief money must be loosened so that those who sublet and those who have borrowed money from other sources can receive aid. If this does not occur, there will be an explosion of homelessness into the unhoused crisis that already exists around us.”
The housing crunch has hit Bay Area residents particarly hard because many struggled to pay the rent before the COVID-19 crisis, the activists said.