As Eviction Cliff Looms, Calls to Cancel Rent Grow

July 27, 2020
By Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg Housing rights activists in California are pushing for taxation of rich residents to help the hundreds of thousands of people who may be at risk of losing housing after COVID-19 eviction restrictions end.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through California, the state’s residents are weathering several crises. California now has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Nearly seven million workers have filed for unemployment since March. Last month’s jobless rate was 14.9 percent, compared with 4 percent for June of 2019.

Now, a growing movement is raising the alarm about another potential disaster: a wave of evictions when the state’s modest protections for renters are lifted.

The Judicial Council, which sets policy for the California court system, has provided the only statewide protections against eviction during the pandemic, according to Madeline Howard, a senior attorney with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

In April, the council issued emergency rules that halted eviction proceedings unless the eviction was necessary to protect “public health and safety.” The rules can be repealed at any time at the body’s discretion, even if the state of emergency is still in place.

On Friday, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye announced at a council meeting that the council will vote soon on terminating the rules, and that they could be lifted as early as Aug. 14. “We have always known that the remedies that we sought for all the affected parties are best left to the legislative and executive branches of government,” said Cantil-Sakauye, who also chairs the council. “I urge our sister branches to turn their attention to this critical work to protect people from devastating effects of this pandemic and its recent resurgence.”

If there are no statewide protections in place when the rules are lifted, hundreds of thousands of people may lose their homes, said Howard. “The thing that is stopping the wave of evictions, that we are all very afraid of, is their emergency rule,” she said.