California’s eviction moratorium — meant to protect renters during the COVID-19 pandemic and implemented amid increased unemployment — is set to expire Thursday. Throughout the county, advocates such as the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County are working to inform those at risk about their options before the deadline.
As October approaches, some Santa Cruzans have more to worry about than just the change in season.
On Thursday, California’s eviction moratorium will sunset, ending eviction protections for renters across the state. Based on the most recent estimates from the National Equity Atlas — a data and policy tool from Oakland-based PolicyLink — as many as 724,000 households in the state are behind on rent, owing a collective $2.46 billion.
In Santa Cruz County, local advocacy groups believe at least 5,000 families are behind on rent and at risk of eviction come next Friday, Oct. 1. Based on current data for Santa Cruz County from the state’s COVID-19 Rent Relief program, only 1,694 applications have been received so far — approximately 28% of the total number of tenants thought to be affected.
Earlier this week, the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County held a workshop in partnership with Watsonville Law Center and Community Bridges in hopes of getting the relief information out to those who need it.
Engagement Officer Stacey Marie Garcia kicked off Thursday’s hourlong session asking attendees to encourage tenants to apply to state rental assistance program Housing is Key for additional support following the moratorium’s end date.
John Subranni of the Watsonville Law Center told the group that, under Assembly Bill 832, tenants are protected from eviction based on nonpayment of rent from April 2020 through the end of this month. If the rent for October and future months is not paid, however, landlords can take tenants to small claims court starting Nov. 1.
If tenants apply for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and can show hardship due to COVID-19 impacts, they will be protected from eviction. Additionally, they will be protected if they pay 25% of what is owed from between September 2020 and the end of this month.
But, Subranni said, if they apply for assistance, they can clear out all of that debt.
“The Emergency Rental Assistance Program will cover 100% of outstanding rent in this law,” Subranni said.
The ERAP program can help cover upward of 15 months of owed rent, three months of future rent, and 12 months of past-due utilities for eligible applicants. The state designated approximately $20 million for Santa Cruz County for these protections, though only $5.59 million has been paid out so far. Current applicants have received an average of $11,607 in assistance.
Subranni said those in need of the assistance should apply before Thursday. After that, they may still receive help, but will not necessarily be protected from eviction.
“The landlord cannot win in court if an ERAP application is approved, or if full payment is approved,” he said. “If a tenant can afford to pay 25% of their rent, only then is it a good idea — but in every situation I can think of, apply for the ERAP.”
Tonje Switzer of Community Bridges has led the county effort for the Housing is Key program — for which tenants are eligible if they earn 80% or less of the area median income. In Santa Cruz County, that translates to an annual income of about $78,000 for an individual and $111,500 for a family of four.
“This program does not end on Sept. 30, but continues until all funds are exhausted,” she said. “There’s no indication that that will happen anytime soon, so people should continue applying.”
If a tenant applies for the Housing is Key program by Thursday, eviction protections will extend through March. Switzer said that hundreds of families have already applied, and Community Bridges is hoping to help more through the rest of September and beyond.
Tenants and families can connect with partners including the Community Action Board, Families in Transition, La Manzana Community Resources, Live Oak Community Resources, Mountain Community Resources and Nueva Vista Community Resources.
“It’s important that the applications get to a point where they are submitted, which means they need to be uploaded,” Switzer said. “For now, apply now — get your application in as soon as possible.”
The application itself is private, Switzer explained, and people can qualify regardless of immigration status and are not required to show proof of citizenship.
Switzer recommended that potential applicants evaluate the many things that qualify as COVID-19 financial distress, such as needing to use ride-share or grocery delivery services due to immunocompromised status.
“Apply now, sign the declaration and hand it to your landlord, stay calm and call us for support,” she said. “Do it as soon as possible and by Sept. 30 if you can — when in doubt, apply, and we’ll figure it out together.”