Local advocates gather in support of Assembly Bill 15
Leaders of local housing advocacy groups held a press conference at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse at noon Wednesday to express their support of Assembly Bill 15 and urge local politicians to support it as well.
AB 15 would extend the moratorium on evictions through the end of 2021 and extend additional protections for tenants. The moratorium would otherwise conclude on Feb. 1.
The COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 prohibits a tenant that delivers a declaration, under penalty of perjury, of COVID-19-related financial distress from being deemed in default with regard to the COVID rental debt.
Existing law defines COVID-19 rental debt as unpaid rent or any other unpaid financial obligation of a tenant that came due between March 1, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021. Existing law repeals the act on Feb. 1, 2025.
AB 15 would extend the definition of “COVID-19 rental debt” as unpaid rent or any other unpaid expenses of a tenant that came due between March 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2021, extending the moratorium by 11 months. It would also extend the repeal date of the act to Jan. 1, 2026.
In addition, the bill would extend the imposition of damages on landlords violating the prohibition and extend the prohibition of landlords from bringing an action for unlawful detainer based on a cause of action other than nonpayment of COVID-19 rental debt for the purpose of retaliating against the lessee because they have COVID-19 rental debt, to Jan. 1, 2022.
Assembly member Steve Bennett, D-Ventura, shared his support of AB 15, which was introduced by Assembly member David Chiu, D-San Francisco.
“I trust the assembly member who’s doing the negotiation… So I’m sure I’ll be supporting the bill when he brings it forward,” he told the News-Press.
State Sen. Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, said in a statement to the News-Press, “With an upcoming deadline and ongoing pandemic, the legislature was prepared to continue the conversations from last year to address tenant stabilization. AB 15 and SB 3 were introduced to address a serious concern for Californians who cannot pay rent due to the impact of the pandemic. As Californians continue to struggle with monthly rent payments, it is vital to consider rent relief to keep families safe at home as cases continue increasing.”
Leaders of the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, along with members of the Santa Barbara Tenants Union, called for politicians’ support of the bill to “stop evictions and save lives.”
“If these tenant protections are not extended, millions of California tenants could be evicted on Feb. 1 for unpaid rent,” said CAUSE Community Organizer Wendy Santamaria. “This would occur while Californians are facing the highest peak of infection rates from COVID.”
She said paying even 25% of rent is harder than it seems for those who lost income during the pandemic who haven’t been able to return to work, or those who never qualified for federal unemployment benefits.
“Unless we pass tenant protections at the state level, we’re going to see a mass tsunami of evictions, with thousands pushed into homelessness and a level of economic poverty from which they will never be able to cover,” Ms. Santamaria said. “As a community organizer, I personally have received calls from families across the county of Santa Barbara telling me that their landlord is trying to evict them now.
“How many more families are we going to see struggling on the streets without homes? It’s a nightmare scenario that can be prevented if we act now.”
Lucia Trujillo is a member of the Santa Barbara Tenants Union and was born and raised in Santa Barbara.
“We are united around the belief that housing is a human right and tenants are better off when we fight together instead of alone,” she said. “Marginalized, disenfranchised communities of color are most impacted during COVID and the housing crisis, because people of color are essential workers, undocumented, ineligible for vital services, uninsured or underinsured and face language barriers.”
She said that as of Sept. 30, 2020, Latinos made up 48% of Santa Barbara County’s population, and 65% were infected with COVID-19, 70% were hospitalized and 58% died of COVID-19.
“This pandemic has only worsened pre-existing inequities in health, housing and the labor market,” Ms. Trujillo said. “Economic precarity has worsened. Communities of color are getting infected and dying at higher rates because they are essential workers, overly exposed to COVID, have lower rates of health insurance and reside in multi-generational housing.”
Jacob Lesner-Buxton, the systems change advocate for the Independent Living Resource Center, also spoke at the conference.
“I am here today because ILRC is concerned about the effects lifting the eviction moratorium will have on seniors and people with disabilities,” he said. “It is already incredibly challenging for people to find housing that is accessible and affordable. For example, we have had consumers who have had to look for nine months or more to find another unit to meet their accessibility needs.”
He added that with the potential of mass evictions over the next few months, ILRC is concerned individuals may lose their accessible apartment and will have to be admitted to nursing facilities because they will be unable to find a unit that is conducive to them being able to live independently.
Sonja Martinez spoke on behalf of those experiencing homelessness, as she herself has been homeless on and off for more than four years.
“Being without a home in Santa Barbara decreases our life expectancy by about 20 years,” she said. “With the prices today and the pandemic, I don’t see a way out of this in this situation. I see evictions on the rise and it makes me wonder, what’s gonna happen when we run out of cars to sleep in?”
She said that since the pandemic, she’s seen more violence among the homeless population.
“I just can’t see anymore people being in my position. It’s going to be crazy,” Ms. Martinez told the News-Press. “The camps are full and there’s garbage and debris — it’s just not a good idea.”
Ms. Martinez said her husband died 21 years ago, so she’s a single mother with a son who’s 27 years old. She also said she’s disabled and has anxiety.
“I don’t fit in a box. I just don’t count,” she said. “But I know I have to count. I am important; I know I count. My parents raised me to know that I count.
“I keep fighting, but I’m going nowhere. It’s just really hard emotionally.”
Because AB 15 is an urgency bill, it requires a two-thirds vote, but once it’s signed by the governor, it automatically goes into effect. It will likely be voted on before the end of January, due to the current Feb. 1 moratorium deadline.