The letter wasn’t supposed to come for another month. Nevertheless, Elena Cruz Rodriguez found the notice from her landlord, informing her that if she couldn’t pay off her $18,000 debt, she should consider immediately surrendering the apartment she’s lived in for 18 years.
Cruz Rodriguez wonders how she’ll pay it off, as she lost her job in March, 2020. She tried applying for other rental assistance programs, to no avail. With two teenagers at home, she’s worried about the future. “I’m stressed, I’m preoccupied, anxious,” she said in Spanish. “But I’m not going to cry. I’m going to look for a solution.”
Local leaders and tenants’ organizers are too, as they worry that once the statewide eviction moratorium expires on June 30, thousands of residents like Cruz Rodriguez will be put on the streets. To avoid this, District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston on Wednesday announced local legislation that extends eviction protection until Dec. 31.
“It’s inexcusable that the state has not acted,” Preston said at a virtual press conference. “But we’re not going to sit around and wait for them to expire.”
The local legislation, dubbed the “Tenant Lifeline Act,” shields residents from eviction notices like the one Cruz Rodriguez received if they pay 25 percent of their rent and make an official declaration to landlords. While this act would apply only in San Francisco, it mirrors the previous statewide eviction moratorium that lapses by July 1. Preston said that keeping the language and requirements similar to the state’s makes it easier on residents to apply, because they’re already familiar.
Maintaining the 25 percent rent promise and declaration has succeeded in fending off pressure from landlords too, said Scott Weaver, a litigation attorney from the Eviction Defense Collaborative.
At the same time, it’ll be inevitable that some can’t afford even 25 percent, and will be subject to removal. For those who have been jobless for a year or have worked paycheck to paycheck and are being asked to make up months of debt, it will be challenging to remain in San Francisco — or even stay housed.
“We’d like to think we’re out of the pandemic, but we’re not. Those who suffer disproportionately are at risk of eviction and all it entails,” Weaver said. “It’s an absolute certainty that some people will be homeless from this. People will be displaced.”
Preston and medical experts further stated how evictions are a public health crisis.
Dr. Olivia Park, a family doctor and founder of the Do No Harm Coalition, said she’s noticed the stress firsthand in her patients. One 81-year-old is so nervous about eviction, she’s started to feel unbearable internal agitation, “which she describes as sitting on top of a washing machine 24/7. It’s so bothersome, she’s not eating or sleeping.”
Dr. Coco Auserwald, a professor of community health sciences at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, noted how even moving can initiate a ripple effect of negative health impacts. “Losing a home threatens nutrition, and the routines necessary to prevent and treat chronic illness and access to medical care,” she said. “Losing a home harms school performance and feeds the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Auserwald also compared eviction to the Covid-19 pandemic. “If there’s one thing we learned in the past 15 months, it’s that it’s much easier and less lethal to prevent a health crisis than to fix one once it’s exploded.”
Eviction protections can also slow an extra wave of homelessness said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness. As of the 2019 Point-In-Time Count, San Francisco reported about 8,000 unhoused people. Having rental assistance “is a proven strategy of ending homelessness,” Friedenbach said.
read about some of the mission residents who have gone a year without work:
On Wednesday, Preston’s office received word that the legislation can waive a rule requiring that it be heard 30 days after it’s introduced. Though a date isn’t set yet, he requested to bring it to the Land Use and Transportation Committee on Monday, June 7.
At the end of the conference, the supervisor urged listeners to call his colleagues to support it. While previous attempts to extend the local moratorium have received unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors in the past, Preston acknowledged that this time around votes aren’t guaranteed. Preston said he understands that eventually the tide may change on how long it should be in effect.
“At some point, there will be pressure to let it expire,” Preston said. “I don’t think there’s a compelling argument for letting that lapse now.”