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High Number of Evictions Prompts Richmond to Consider Stronger Protections

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Derrick Sanderlin protesting in front of the Santa Clara Superior Court in San Jose on Jan. 27, 2021.
Contra Costa County evicted 135 people between the beginning of the pandemic and the end of 2020, the second-highest number of evictions across the Bay Area. That’s according to a KQED analysis of sheriff lockouts that was cited in the council member’s report. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

More renters in Richmond may soon be protected from evictions after the City Council on Tuesday approved directing city staff to draft stronger eviction protections for tenants during the pandemic.

"We feel the urgency of now, that we have to take action. So what we want to do is fill the gaps. This is the best scenario that we can do and we want to do the best scenario," said Richmond City Council member Gayle McLaughlin, who introduced the item.

Despite statewide protections that prevent tenants from eviction for nonpayment of rent if they claim a financial hardship, evictions are still happening, including in the city of Richmond. Contra Costa County evicted 135 people between the beginning of the pandemic and the end of 2020, the second-highest number of evictions across the Bay Area. That’s according to a KQED analysis of sheriff lockouts that was cited in the council member’s report.

“They are another community that didn't pass strong protections. And so as a result, many of their community members did get evicted. I think this is a way to try and close those loopholes,” said Leah Simon-Weisberg, a tenant rights attorney and legal director for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

Richmond city attorneys are now working on drafting an eviction protection ordinance modeled after San Francisco and Alameda counties, which have seen the fewest evictions in the region. Tenant groups attribute the low eviction numbers to the local moratoriums, which have halted nearly all evictions, except for health and safety cases or if a rental is being taken off the market.

Richmond does not currently have a local moratorium in place, and earlier eviction protections expired last September. Renters remain vulnerable to eviction for lease violations, no-fault evictions or rent debt that predated the pandemic.

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“Without robust COVID-19 eviction protections, Richmond residential tenants will continue to be at risk of eviction during the pandemic and inequity and instability will grow,” Richmond City Council members McLaughlin and Melvin Willis wrote in a memo supporting the issue. “Adding additional tenant protections will prevent displacement, reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and promote the stability and the health and safety of the residents and businesses of Richmond.”

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Some tenants' attorneys say a blanket eviction ban is necessary to prevent further housing insecurity or homelessness.

“We don’t want to put more families out on the street right now,” said Anne Tamiko Omura, executive director of the Eviction Defense Center, which offers legal services to tenants in Alameda and parts of Contra Costa counties. She said 98% of her clients in Richmond facing eviction are people of color, and are mostly Black and Latino families.

At Tuesday's meeting, Tamiko Omura urged the Richmond City Council to consider pausing unlawful detainers and sheriff lockouts from going forward while the coronavirus pandemic is still a threat.

“We are begging you," she said. "If Richmond doesn't do anything, we're just going to continue to see more of the same: predominantly low-income people of color being pushed into homelessness.”

Council member Eduardo Martinez suggested including additional protections for property owners who have not received rent and may be at risk of foreclosure.

"This is an issue that's much larger than just tenants," Martinez said.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt cast the only no vote, arguing that the city’s rent control and the state eviction protections already do enough to shield tenants.

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