WATSONVILLE—Some California renters facing eviction at the end of March got a reprieve Thursday when Acting Governor Eleni Kounalakis signed legislation that extends statewide protections tied to a state-run rental assistance program.
Assembly Bill 2179 extends eviction protections through June 30 for Californians who signed up with the state’s Housing is Key program or who applied for local assistance by March 31.
Kounalakis was filling in for Gov. Gavin Newsom while he was on vacation.
The signing ceremony marked the first time in California history that a woman signed a piece of legislation into law, according to the Governor’s office.
“Today’s action will provide additional time to thousands more who are in the process of acquiring emergency relief,” Kounalakis said. “I am deeply humbled to take this action and to be part of history today as the first woman in state history to sign legislation into law. I remain more determined than ever to ensure that while I may be the first to do so, I will certainly not be the last.”
California’s $5.5 billion Covid-19-related rent relief program is the largest statewide renter assistance program in the country, and covers 100% of past-due rent payments for qualified low-income Californians.
To date, the program has helped more than 220,000 households. Thousands of others have received assistance from local programs.
Community Bridges CEO Raymon Cancino said that, locally, about 4,000 families have applied for the protection. The countywide nonprofit has helped guide many of those families through the program over the past year.
“I think it’s a really exciting thing,” he said. “We’ve been calling on legislators for the past several weeks to make sure that those individuals that were still waiting for the state payments to get there were protected, and we’re really happy that there is now a state policy to make sure that we’re protecting those families.”
Cancino estimates that there are still 2,800 families in need of eviction protection. Those people, he said, should work with their landlords, or seek legal support as they try to remain in their residences.
“Our goal is to prevent as many evictions as possible, so they are not going on people’s credit reports, and trying to make sure we work with tenants and landlords to find alternatives to court, like mediation,” he said. “We should all be patient with each other during this time in transition, the best thing that can come out of a situation where there’s a disagreement is that we work together and talk together.”
Under the Housing is Key program, tenants can access rental funds directly if their landlord chooses not to participate, and landlords can receive compensation even if their otherwise income-qualified tenants have already vacated a unit.
But while AB2179 extended the protections baked into the program—landlords, for instance, had to first seek mediation and give their tenants a chance to look for assistance before handing out evictions—the deadline to sign up for Housing Is Key was March 31.
In anticipation of this, local jurisdictions have dedicated funds to help tenants remain housed.
The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on March 22 approved the use of $500,000 to kickstart a countywide plan to address the issue and, in a special meeting on Tuesday, Watsonville City Council chipped in $20,000 from the city’s affordable housing fund.
The funds will cover the cost of legal assistance and mediation, flexible financial assistance, tenant rights education and counseling and case management services.
In a presentation to the council on Tuesday, Watsonville Housing Manager Carlos Landaverry said that the multi-jurisdiction fund will be essential in uniting rental assistance efforts between the county and city. There have been instances in which city staff has had to turn away a person who lives a block outside of city limits. The new program will help all renters and landlords, regardless of where they live.
“It helps if we work together and have one, unified consistent message,” Landaverry said.
The cities of Santa Cruz and Capitola, Landaverry said, were also weighing whether they would contribute funds to the pool.
In all, the state has distributed $3.27 million to Watsonville renters who have fallen behind on their payments because of the pandemic. At the county level, some $17 million has been distributed.