California lawmakers Thursday overwhelmingly approved a fourth extension of an eviction moratorium, granting a reprieve to renters awaiting relief from the state’s beleaguered and backlogged assistance program.

The new law — approved the day before existing protections were set to expire — extends an eviction moratorium through June 30 for more than 100,000 California tenants who have applied to the emergency rental assistance program but who have yet to receive aid. The law also offers landlords some protections by banning a raft of new proposals by cities and counties to enact local restrictions on evictions. Early eviction bans in Oakland and Alameda County were grandfathered in by state lawmakers and still apply, although landlords have sued to stop them.

Researchers estimate at least half of the applications to the assistance program, launched last March, are still under review.

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, serving as acting governor while Gov. Gavin Newsom is on vacation, signed the measure Thursday. The emergency bill — AB 2179, co-authored by Assemblymember Tim Grayson, D-Concord, and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland — needed two-thirds approval from lawmakers and passed by wide margins in the Assembly and state Senate this week.

“Today’s action will provide additional time to thousands more who are in the process of acquiring emergency relief,” said Kounalakis, becoming the first woman in state history to sign a piece of legislation into law.

Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, cast the lone Senate floor vote against the extension. Wiener, chair of the Senate housing committee, said the extension was important but he objected to pre-empting additional local protections. Many California renters, he said, “continue to struggle.”

Lawmakers enacted a broad moratorium early in the COVID-19 pandemic, seeking to keep families struggling with illness and unemployment from becoming homeless during the health crisis. The moratorium was extended three times, gradually offering fewer protections and finally only covering renters in the federally-funded $5.5 billion Housing is Key assistance program. The program is expected to receive additional funds but was set to stop taking applications at midnight March 31.

The moratorium has been a flashpoint for tenants and landlords. Renter advocates say more time and money are needed for struggling, low-income families to get on firmer financial ground. Landlords say too many tenants are taking advantage of the protections, and small owners are challenged to pay their mortgages and make needed repairs.

Both sides agree that the assistance program, built from scratch to quickly deliver billions of dollars to tenants and landlords, has been confusing, opaque and fraught with delays. Still, the state has distributed $2.6 billion to 223,000 renter households since it launched last March.

About 373,000 renters have applications either under review or are awaiting payment on a first or second aid request, according to an analysis of state data by the National Equity Atlas. The researchers estimate as many as 740,000 renter families in California missed paying February rent.

State housing officials say the backlog is between 165,000 to 190,000 applicants. The state expects to pay back rent for all eligible applicants in the program.

The protections only prevent evictions for nonpayment of rent from the start of the pandemic through March. Landlords can serve tenants papers to pay or leave if they miss April’s rent, even if an application for relief is pending. Property owners generally can also remove tenants over health and safety concerns or if they are taking a home or apartment off the market.

The extension stirred anger and disappointment among advocates for landlords and tenants.

The California Rental Housing Association, a collection of mostly small landlords with few units, argued against another extension. Small mom-and-pop landlords have struggled with non-paying tenants, often taking a chunk out of their revenues and hindering their ability to pay a mortgage or improve their building.

“They’re already hurting,” said Sid Lakireddy, a Berkeley landlord and past president of the association. “How much more pain are you going to inflict on them?”

But the California Apartment Association, a lobby with several large, corporate landlords as members, endorsed the pre-emptive ban on new, local moratoriums.

Tenant advocates say the financial impacts of the pandemic have not completely abated, and many low-wage workers have seen their incomes reduced. The state unemployment rate was 5.4% in February, and many California cities are among the most expensive for renters in the U.S.

Christina Livingston, executive director of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), said the state needs to keep the program open, allow local eviction protections and keep more families housed. “The economic fallout of the pandemic is far from over,” she said.

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California passes new extension on eviction ban – Vallejo Times-Herald
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