'Eviction Time Bomb': Over 40,000 Santa Clara County Renters Could Soon Face Eviction, New Report Warns

Those at greatest risk of eviction in the county, where average rent is nearly $3,000, are disproportionately people of color, households headed by women and families of young children, according to the group's analysis of unemployment insurance claims and census data. (iStock)

More than 40,000 tenants in Santa Clara County could be at risk of eviction after August, when local emergency rental protections expire, a new report warns.

Released Wednesday, the report identifies over 43,000 renter households in the county at highest risk of eviction. They primarily consist of undocumented workers and other low-income residents who have lost substantial income during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have not been eligible for unemployment assistance.

"We're looking at an eviction time bomb," said Michael Trujillo, an attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley (LFSV), the nonprofit group that co-authored the report, in collaboration with Working Partnerships USA. That potential wave of evictions — roughly 16 times the average number filed in the county in an entire year — would have devastating, widespread impacts, he added.

"There's a huge risk of a surge in homelessness, which could be over a 200% increase," Trujillo said.

Those at greatest risk of eviction in the county, where average rent is nearly $3,000, are disproportionately people of color, households headed by women and families of young children, according to the group's analysis of unemployment insurance claims and census data.

More than 212,000 Santa Clara County workers — or one in every five workers in the county — filed unemployment claims between March 15 and May 30, the report found. The majority of those claims covered fields that include a large number of low-wage jobs, where Black and Latinx workers are disproportionately represented. Not included in that number, the report notes, are the estimated 95,000 undocumented workers in the county who are ineligible for unemployment benefits.

"We're just really concerned about the disparate impact this would have on Black and Latinx households and folks who may be undocumented as well," Trujillo said.

The report's dire warning comes just over a month before the county's eviction moratorium is set to expire. Enacted soon after shelter-in-place restrictions went into effect in late March, the countywide order bars landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment of rent due to significant pandemic-related income loss.

Tenants have up to six months after the moratorium expires on Aug. 31 — which officials already extended from May 31 — to repay at least 50% of past-due rent, and up to a year to repay the full amount. That repayment, however, is on top of whatever rent those tenants will continue to owe on a monthly basis, a particularly daunting challenge amid ongoing economic fallout as the coronavirus cases continue to surge.

The emergency protections are similar to those enacted in most other Bay Area counties — and much of the rest of the state — where low-income people of color have been hit hardest by the pandemic, both physically and financially.

"It's really going to devastate Black and Latinx renters who, of course, are most likely to be working in industries that have been affected by COVID and also most likely to be highly rent burdened in the first place," Trujillo said.

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In California, 46% of Latinx renters and more than half of Black renters said they had no or only slight confidence they would be able to pay July rent, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey.

Trujillo notes that while Santa Clara County is one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, the risk to renters here is hardly unique. Low-income residents in most nearby counties are facing a similar threat, he said, noting another recent analysis that identified some 12,000 Contra Costa County households — including 10,400 children — at risk of imminent eviction if that county's moratorium ends. His group's report, he added, is based on methodology from a UCLA study of Los Angeles County, which found more than 130,000 households to be at risk of eviction.

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LFSV's report urges Santa Clara County officials to again extend the eviction moratorium through the state of emergency and permanently prohibit landlords from evicting tenants who are unable to repay rent due to loss of income from COVID-19. Landlords, it suggests, should instead file civil lawsuits seeking back rent, which could lead to wage garnishment, downgraded credit scores or liens, but at least keep tenants from being pushed out of their homes. Additionally, the report encourages state and federal lawmakers to provide financial relief to the most at-risk tenants to cover insurmountable rental debts.

The report also recommends that local officials ensure that all tenants have access to legal assistance to better understand their rights, fight unfair evictions and negotiate agreements with landlords.

"Unlike our neighbors up north in San Francisco, there's no guaranteed access (here) to legal assistance if you're facing eviction in Santa Clara County" Trujillo said. "And so, in fact, vanishingly few tenants are represented. The reality is that we're one of the few organizations that provides legal defense in the county and we simply just don't have enough capacity to represent everyone who needs defense."

Measures implemented by county officials have so far been effective in preventing widespread evictions during the pandemic, Trujillo said. But he stressed that much more needs to be done to avert a major displacement crisis.

"Those families that are most at risk right now are families that are living in neighborhoods that been disadvantaged for a long time, in terms of investment, in terms of housing development, in terms of displacement protection," he said. "And so this crisis is really compounding what was already a severe housing crisis. And as we move forward and start to address these problems, I hope that the solutions also go to addressing the drivers of that underlying housing crisis."