SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The clock is ticking for California tenant protections that started last year.
Members of the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), the Santa Barbara Tenants Union and others gathered at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Wednesday to demand action. They are backing California AB 15, which if signed into law would extend current tenant protections to Dec. 31, 2021.
Under the current law, which was passed last year after the pandemic began, tenants facing financial hardship can avoid eviction by paying at least 25 percent of their rent. However, that law is set to expire Jan. 31.
CAUSE community organizer Wendy Santamaria says if a tenant protection extension does not pass at the state level, California is "going to see a mass tsunami of evictions" starting Feb. 1.
Santamaria says she has heard from several community families who say their landlords are already trying to evict them.
The pandemic's health and economic crises have disproportionately affected minorities. Many remain jobless, especially in the hard-hit hospitality industry, a critical piece of the Central Coast economy.
Unemployment benefits have run out for families up and down the coast while thousands of undocumented immigrants never received them in the first place. All of those factors make it difficult for thousands of locals to afford rent during the pandemic, or sometimes even 25 percent of their rent.
“Any area with high prices, if you combine that with losing your job or running out of unemployment benefits, there’s no way that people are going to remain housed for a long time without protections,” Santamaria said.
Another concern is the pandemic, which is currently in a dire stage. Organizers worry that thousands of people being sent out to the streets will worsen the spread of the virus and strain on local hospitals.
However, landlords are also in a bind. Without rent coming in, many are struggling to pay property taxes, maintenance, mortgages and other costs.
The Santa Barbara Rental Property Association sent NewsChannel 3 a statement outlining property owners' major concerns:
- There are many people that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and need help, particularly those who have lost their jobs/businesses or have incurred extraordinary medical expenses because of COVID-19. We support legislation that assists those that have been impacted. We do not support a blanket eviction moratorium, particularly one that extends through the end of 2021.
- A blanket eviction moratorium through the end of 2021 is not a good solution. To expect a property owner to carry and provide housing for long periods of time for a tenant who, on account of the pandemic, is unable to pay for housing is an extraordinary burden. Carrying costs, such as utilities, insurance, repairs, and taxes, continue to accrue and without rental income, a property owner cannot afford to pay for the carrying costs through a second year.
- An eviction moratorium is also hard for the tenant. They will have a massive debt at the end of the moratorium. This will trigger a crisis based on two years’ worth of rent that is back due and owed. The debt is a bad idea for the tenant.
- $2.6 billion in federal relief was given to California in the latest COVID-19 economic stimulus package. Our local municipalities need to immediately make this available for our residents to make them feel secure in their housing and keep everybody afloat. Instead of expanding moratoriums, what is needed is expanding the rental assistance program for tenants that truly need it. The County has made funding available through the United Way already, but the City has not: Rental Assistance | United Way of Santa Barbara County (unitedwaysb.org)
- There is a misunderstanding that property owners have unlimited resources
.. Santa Barbara Rental Property Association members are mainly mom and pop landlords. Many of them use the rent dollar to pay for their retirement living needs and have no other income sources and are unable to work during the pandemic, and who don’t receive any type of COVID-19 assistance for their needs.