Local News West Edition

Housing advocates seek more protections for renters

LOS ANGELES — Advocates with the Alliance of Californians for Community are calling for help from the state or federal level to help people impacted by the coronavirus pandemic who need help paying rent or mortgages.

The group last week issued an open letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom saying moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures need to come from the state or federal government instead of forcing residents to rely on local governments to implement such guidelines.

Newsom’s stay at home order issued earlier this month began the closure of many businesses as employers sent employees home to work. The action caused an exponential rise in unemployment claims with the state Employment Development Department, which handles unemployment claims.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, California saw nearly 15,000 more initial unemployment claims in the week ending March 14, up 34% compared to the week before and up 42% compared to the same week in 2019. Nationwide, claims were up 28% compared to last year. 

In the city of Inglewood, the City Council has declared a local emergency, which triggered an executive order by Mayor James Butts to implement a 45-day moratorium on evictions of residential and commercial tenants who can show a direct link of their finances being impacted by the health crisis. Butts also expressed that the federal government should be doing more to assist renters.

“If the government is going to force people not to work, then every American should receive rental/mortgage assistance of $2,000 per month until this crisis is over,” Butts said. “You can’t use the power of the government to tell people they can’t work without compensating them.”

That potential compensation, as outlined by President Donald Trump has been voted on and failed three times.

Trump has proposed a variety of subsidies, ranging from $1,000 per adult and $500 per child, but due to infighting between the Senate and the House of Representatives, they have failed to agree on how to adequately address the crisis.

Businessowners can’t survive if the stay at home orders last for months.

“Businesses have leases, salaries and overhead, and while bailing out the airline industry is a good thing, you can’t protect people then starve them to death,” Butts said.

Eviction attorney Dennis P. Block is adamant that eviction filings can still take place and the burden of proof will lie with the renter to show the nexus between the virus and their inability to pay rent.

“There has not been any emergency order which prevents the filing and prosecution of any eviction action,” Block said. “This firm is continuing to file unlawful detainer actions. However, if a tenant can demonstrate an inability to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic, then that would be a defense to an eviction for non-payment of rent.”

Italy and El Salvador have suspended all rent and mortgage payments, which is what housing advocates around the nation are asking for the American government to do.

Any relief would have to cover both the renter and the landlord. You can’t allow residents to not pay rent while homeowners are still obligated to make their mortgage payments.

The city of Los Angeles outlined a wide range of such protections at the March 17 City Council meeting that were due to be voted on March 24. But City Council President Nury Martinez announced March 23 that the remaining meetings for the month of March have been canceled.

On March 18, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) directed mortgage servicers of Federal Housing Administration-backed loans to halt new foreclosure actions and suspend those already in progress for a 60-day period.

“The halting of all foreclosure actions and evictions or the next 60 days will provide homeowners with some peace of mind during these trying times,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said.

On March 24, Congress and President Trump reached a tentative agreement on a $2 trillion virus rescue package. The package calls for adults earning less than $75,000 per year to receive $1,200 and $500 per child. Earnings are based on 2018 tax filings.

Unemployment benefits will be extended upwards of an additional $600 per week, for up to four months. The maximum weekly unemployment compensation in the state of California is $450 per week.

The bill will also provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to continue making payroll.  

Americans will now have to wait for direction from the federal government on whether widespread protections will also cover residential and commercial tenants.

As of March 25, Congress had yet to finalize this third proposed bill to help Americans during this global pandemic.

“You can’t use the power of the government to tell people they can’t work without compensating them.”

— Inglewood Mayor James Butts

From 2UrbanGirls