Eleven months after Cedric Dugger faced eviction because of Covid-19 back debt, he has narrowly avoided homelessness — at least for the coming year.
Dugger and his landlord, Veritas Investments, the largest residential landlord in San Francisco, have negotiated a deal to allow him to stay at least another year.
The ailing 70-year-old has paid his $40,000 debt through San Francisco’s rent-relief program;Veritas has also agreed to reduce Dugger’s rent next year by $7,800.
“We are hoping this year will give us enough breathing room,” said Dugger’s lawyer, Tom Drohan.
Last July, Dugger, days shy of his 70th birthday, faced an eviction brought by Veritas for his failure to pay some $8,000 in rent owed during the covid pandemic. He was one of several San Francisco tenants facing eviction at the time, after California’s pandemic-era eviction protections were set to expire.
Since July, that debt has grown: When Dugger settled his eviction case with Veritas this May, he owed some $40,000, in part, he said, because his disability checks had been cut. He struggled to keep up with mounting health bills and pay the rent.
Dugger made use of two San Francisco anti-eviction programs: The Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which provides rent relief, and the city’s right to counsel law, which provides free attorneys for tenants facing eviction.
In this case, the city was able to pay all of Dugger’s $40,000 back rent and set him up with a lawyer to litigate his case.
Last summer, Dugger was struggling to pay $1,600 in monthly rent for his 601 O’Farrell St. apartment. He had been homeless once before, he said at the time, sleeping on cardboard at Fisherman’s Wharf, and had experienced depression and other ailments.
He did not want to end up there again. “I would be on the streets again at 70 years old,” he said at the time. “I can’t even imagine.”
Veritas filed an eviction case against Dugger in 2022, prompting District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and advocates like the Veritas Tenants’ Association to protest on his behalf. Dugger said he didn’t know how to access rent-relief programs, a problem thousands across the state experienced, and didn’t have the $8,000 he owed at the time.
Shortly afterward, Dugger received free legal representation from the city. Drohan, an attorney for Legal Assistance to the Elderly, helped Dugger apply for the funds and continued the eviction case trial, which was set for the fall.
“It’s a good example of this program working correctly and getting the job done,” Drohan said. He commended the Veritas attorney’s “patience” while the money came through from the city’s rent-relief program; the company had agreed to delay the trial while it waited.
Once the full amount of Dugger’s rent debt was paid by the city a few weeks ago, Veritas agreed to settle and to reduce Dugger’s rent for the next year, Drohan said. “They were always willing to work something out. They wanted to accept his rent.”
“As we do with all our residents, we worked diligently to help Mr. Dugger remain safely housed,” a Veritas spokesperson said, adding that the company’s “default approach in such situations” was to be “creative with solutions that align with a resident’s particular needs.”
Despite the break, the senior still faces hefty bills. Preston’s office and a coalition of advocacy groups started a $10,000 GoFundMe to help Dugger pay his future rent this year.
Dugger is not the only tenant facing eviction over pandemic debt, however. Drohan, the tenant attorney, said most eviction lawyers in San Francisco have a majority of cases that involve nonpayment of rent during covid.
While pleased with the outcome, Brad Hirn, an organizer for the Veritas Tenants’ Association who helped advocate for Dugger, said the delay had taken its toll.
“I don’t think it needed to take this long,” Hirn said, adding that some of the 40 clients the association is working with, who are facing nonpayment cases, take on “trauma and stress.”
“Maybe there’s a better way to arrive at these agreements,” he said.
Preston, for his part, applauded strong organizing by the Veritas Tenants’ Association and the city’s rent-relief and anti-eviction programs.
Thanks to funds generated by 2020’s Proposition I, which Preston spearheaded and which doubles the transfer tax on sales of $10 million or more, the city raised tens of millions in local rent-relief funds to cover those left out of the state rent-relief program. As of March, some $24 million funds remain, Preston said.
“I’m just really pleased we’ve been able to reach a resolution and to avoid homelessness. It’s good for him, and for the city,” Preston said. “I think these kinds of interventions are often very cost-effective and literally life-saving … as I think was the case here.”