As California’s eviction moratorium nears expiration and with few signs the protections will be extended statewide, the Redwood City Council voted unanimously to direct staff to draft a local emergency moratorium in case the state or county fail to act.
“This has been such a hard year, especially hard for our low-income residents, many of whom were just barely hanging on. … We must do this last thing to protect our most vulnerable residents from eviction and possible homelessness,” Councilmember Diana Reddy said during Monday’s City Council meeting.
Reddy brought the item forward following outcry from dozens of community members facing financial hardship and potential eviction with the looming end of the moratorium. The state’s protections are slated to expire after June 30 though Redwood City lobbyists say legislators are discussing a possible expansion of the moratorium, City Manager Melissa Stevenson-Diaz told the council.
While Reddy’s initial recommendation was to implement a six-month eviction moratorium, she agreed with a recommendation by Councilmember Michael Smith to reduce the protections to three months.
The three additional months would allow time for the state to remedy issues related to its Emergency Rental Relief Program which offers to cover 80% of a renter’s back rent if landlords forgive the remaining 20%, argued Smith.
“The state and county did not act in a sufficient way to accommodate for this issue that is upon us,” Smith said. “Because I am not confident the county or state will act in a way to protect our marginalized community, the city has to step in. We have to do something. There has to be some conversation around this otherwise we are going to have the direct impacts of this eviction moratorium cliff.“
Renters, housing advocates and landlords have called for similar improvements to the state program including the implementation of a simpler application process, quicker payments for approved funding and full coverage of owed rent.
Despite agreeing on program improvements, Redwood City renters and landlords disagreed on whether the city should support pursuing an eviction moratorium. Of the roughly 15 speakers at Monday’s meeting more than half spoke in favor of the extension.
But half a dozen people implored the city not to move forward with studying the issue. Landlords detailed their own struggles with accommodating their tenants’ needs, some saying they were approved for the state program three months ago but have yet to receive payment and others suggesting tenants are taking advantage of the moratorium despite being financially capable to pay rent.
Rhovy Lyn Antonio, a senior vice president of local public affairs with the California Apartment Association, suggested the city instead spend its time supporting efforts to encourage use of the state program.
County officials have noted the program has been undersubscribed with about $25 million of assistance having been requested of the $47 million allocated to San Mateo County. Only $1.5 million of requested assistance has been funded, Antonio said.
“Any extension, state or local, will continue to force some owners to provide housing with little to no compensation. This is simply unfair,” Antonio said, offering up the agency’s support in encouraging renters and landlords to participate in the program.
She noted renters in arrears are also protected if 25% of owed rent has been paid. If landlords are unwilling to participate in the program, renters are also eligible for state support with 25% of back rent.
Mayor Diane Howard expressed her own concerns for implementing the ordinance before the county or state had a chance to act, suggesting the city wait to make their decision in early July. Given that the ordinance will become void if the state or county enact rules of their own, the entire council ultimately supported moving forward with the measure.
The council will vote on enacting the emergency eviction moratorium June 28 following fact-finding efforts necessary for building a strong legal case for the measure. The county is slated to discuss its eviction moratorium the following day which will either cover the entire county or just the unincorporated areas.
“We can’t wait on the county or state. We need to do something in our city,” Councilmember Alicia Aguirre said.
In other business, the council unanimously supported tabling any decision on switching the city’s sewage service bill system from bimonthly to a biannual process connected to property tax billing managed by the county.
Responding to strong community concern the switch would be burdensome on financially strapped residents, the council agreed to wait until additional community outreach could be conducted. It also directed staff to collect more information on how other Peninsula cities have benefited from the county model and the types of penalties residents could face for nonpayment of bills.
Public Works Director Terance Kyaw argued the city would benefit from the switch through reduced staff time and better bond repayment deals. The benefits would potentially limit the number of rate increases as well, he said.
Without receiving council support Monday, Kyaw said the city would likely not meet the county’s deadline for enrolling in the sewage charge collection program, scheduled for July 1, requiring the city to wait an additional year to enroll.
“I think that maybe we needed to do a better job about getting down and drilling down to the everyday person,” Howard said. “It’s easier to celebrate a bigger picture sometimes and it’s hard to reach everyone on ‘how this is going to impact me and the ways this is going to impact my future.’”
Visit smcgov.org/san-mateo-county-emergency-rental-assistance-program for more information of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106