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EXPLAINER: California’s efforts to slow pace of evictions

June 25, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and had fallen months behind on their rent.

Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.

Advocates for tenants say the distribution of the money has been slow and that more time is needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who are behind on their rents.

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As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.

Here’s the situation in California:

WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?

Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders have agreed to extend the state’s eviction moratorium through Sept. 30. Lawmakers will vote on the proposal next week, and Newsom has said he will sign it into law.

WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?

California says it will pay off 100% of eligible tenants’ unpaid rent from April 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021. To be eligible, tenants must earn 80% or less of the area median income, an amount that varies depending on where they live. The money — $5.2 billion — comes from the federal government. People who are not eligible to get the money can still qualify for the eviction ban if they pay at least 25% of what they owe by Sept. 30. Landlords could take these tenants to court to recoup that money, but they could not evict them for it.

HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?

Tenants are protected from evictions through Sept. 30. After that date, if a landlord tries to evict someone, the tenant will have 14 days to apply for rental assistance. If the tenant refuses to apply or is denied eligibility and has not paid at least 25% of what is owed by Sept. 30, the tenant can be evicted.

California still allows evictions right now for reasons other than unpaid rent, including breaking the lease agreement, damaging the property or using the property to do something illegal.

WHAT IS THE AFFORDABILITY IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?

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California’s major population centers, including Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, have some of the most expensive rental prices in the country. In May, the median monthly rent was $2,715 in San Francisco and $2,581 in Los Angeles, according to data from Realtor.com. The prices are driven by a housing shortage in the nation’s most populous state, with nearly 40 million residents.

ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?

This is the big fear among housing advocates. California already has largest homeless population in the country. Combined with a housing shortage and expensive rents, ending eviction protections could put more people on the street. However, the legislative agreement will pay off 100% of unpaid rent through September 2021. Meanwhile, California has ended COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses, and employers say they are having a hard time finding workers.