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September 29, 2020

City approves moratorium on Covid-19 evictions

WATSONVILLE—In a surprise end-of-meeting redux, the Watsonville City Council approved a moratorium on Covid-19 related evictions, reversing a decision it made just hours prior during Tuesday night’s meeting.

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The council was preparing to wrap up the virtual session when Councilman Aurelio Gonzalez made a motion to reconsider the moratorium. It was originally voted down 4-1, failing to meet the five-vote threshold needed for emergency items. That motion passed 5-1, with Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez dissenting.

Coffman-Gomez was also the lone “no” vote on the moratorium revote, saying that the decision should be pushed to another meeting so that the public could once again weigh in—or simply be in attendance. She did not vote on the item the first time around because her connection to the meeting cut out just seconds before the council voted.

The final flurry of the five-hour meeting was full of “confusion and chaos,” Coffman-Gomez said. She called on the council to overhaul its current decision-making process at a future meeting.

“I believe that we can work more collectively as a body to put together motions so that we’re all hearing each other out,” she said.

Councilman Francisco “Paco” Estrada was absent because of the birth of his first child.

The moratorium will protect Watsonville’s residential tenants affected by the virus until Jan. 15, 2021.

The end date was the crux of the first failed vote. Councilwoman Ari Parker voted “no” because the original proposal did not give a clear time limit on the moratorium. Instead, staff recommended that the moratorium stick until the local state of emergency lifted. But Gonzalez brought the moratorium back with the early 2021 sunset as an amendment and Parker flipped.

The protections go into effect immediately.

State-level protections are set to expire on Sept. 2 after the Judicial Council earlier this month voted to once again allow eviction claims to be processed.

But Watsonville renters who have been impacted by the novel coronavirus—whether they’ve seen their hours or pay slashed because of the ongoing economic restrictions, or fallen into financial or medical instability after catching Covid-19—will continue to have some defense.

The moratorium is not a rent holiday. All tenants must continue to pay what they can, and are liable for all past due rent.

Unlike the first moratorium passed in March, the revised ban does not carry a six-month payback period. Instead, payback plans will be determined between the landlord and the tenant.

Tenants hoping to qualify for the protections must give landlords written notice—text, email, a formal letter or something similar—that they will not be able to pay their full rent within seven days after their rent is due.

They then must provide proof that they have been negatively impacted by Covid-19.

Most of the approved recommendations came from the Eviction Moratorium Housing Taskforce, a coalition of developers, property managers, nonprofit leaders, banks and tenant advocates that in May recommended the City allow its first moratorium to expire.

That taskforce reportedly held heated but constructive meetings about the moratorium and housing over the last three months. Several council members said those meetings need to continue well beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

The council also directed staff to develop an Emergency Rental Assistance Program that will assist renters affected by Covid-19. The City plans to allocate $100,000 to the program, though it has not yet said where that money will come from.

The City used federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to buoy 67 families with rent checks averaging $1,280 in April.

The City is planning on hosting webinars with both tenants and landlords to make sure they understand their rights and restrictions.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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