Gov. Newsom Asks California Cities to Halt Evictions Amid Coronavirus

People wait on the first floor of the Hayward Hall of Justice outside the clerk's office on Monday March 16, 2020. (Molly Solomon/KQED)

Yomila, a mother of seven from San Leandro, rushed into the Hayward Hall of Justice on Monday — hours before a shelter-in-place order would be announced — to file a response to an eviction notice. She was three days late on paying rent, she said.

“I’m fighting really hard to keep a roof over my head,” Yomila said in Spanish, declining to give her last name because of a domestic violence situation. Three of her children have disabilities, she said, making them especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“Right now, it’s impossible to find another place to rent,” Yomila said.

As California tries to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday issued an executive order urging local governments to halt evictions if tenants are unable to pay rent due to the coronavirus.

Some cities, including Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose, have already taken steps to do that. But rather than forcing local governments to pass moratoriums city-by-city and county-by-county, many activists are saying the governor should be doing much more by imposing a statewide freeze, regardless of whether the evictions are related to the coronavirus.

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"[The governor] punted responsibility to over-burdened counties and cities to deal with this problem themselves, when, in my opinion, they should be focusing on delivering emergency services to their citizens," said Meghan Gordon, director of housing practice for the East Bay Community Law Center.

The executive order, which will remain in effect until May 31, also requests that banks and other financial institutions delay foreclosures if a mortgage holder’s inability to pay is related to lost wages caused by the coronavirus.

By Monday evening, 392 people were confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19 in California, including more than 250 in the Bay Area. Newsom said Monday evening that one of the eight deaths in the state so far was a person experiencing homelessness in Santa Clara County.

State Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, said he plans to file a bill this week that would go further than the governor’s order and freeze evictions statewide for a period of up to one year or as long as the governor’s state of emergency is in place.

“One of the ways we can minimize the effects of the virus is to reduce human contact,” Ting said. “Human contact is not reduced when people have to live on the street, oftentimes in very crowded, unsanitary conditions.”

Ting added, “If people have a home, we want to keep them in their home.”

The calls to halt evictions come amid a shelter-in-place order for six Bay Area counties, including Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara. Santa Cruz County is also ordering residents to shelter at home. The orders restrict most residents to their residences for anything but essential activities, such as visiting a grocery store, picking up prescriptions or caring for a loved one.

And on Monday, the San Francisco and Alameda County sheriff’s offices said they would stop enforcing all evictions as residents are told to shelter in place. The Alameda County Superior Court on Monday also said it would close all of its courthouses.

Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, said it’s counterproductive to enforce evictions while also operating an emergency management center that is seeking vacant hotel rooms for people who are homeless and who need to self-isolate during the current outbreak.

“We’re in an unprecedented time,” he said. “Right now, we’re concerned about the most vulnerable people in our community, and a lot of those people are people who ultimately end up in the eviction process.”

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But some landlords were concerned that without collecting rent, they wouldn’t be able to pay their mortgages. Yolanda Chavez, who described herself as a “mom and pop landlord," spoke at a San Jose City Council meeting on March 10.

“I have to make my payments,” Chavez said. “How am I going to make my payments, pay my mortgages, if the renter doesn’t pay theirs?”

Ting’s proposed legislation would include a provision to block home foreclosures while an eviction moratorium is in place, he said, so that property owners could work with their tenants and their banks on a payment plan.

The governor's order does not relieve tenants from eventually paying their rent.

“A moratorium doesn’t mean that you don’t owe the money back,” Ting said. “The owner would have to pay the money back, and the same with the tenant.”