SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- State lawmakers are racing to finalize the largest rent forgiveness plan in U.S. history and negotiate an extension to California’s eviction moratorium, just days before it is set to expire.
Governor Gavin Newsom is proposing to forgive 100 percent of unpaid rent for low-income Californians who suffered financially during the pandemic. California currently allows tenants to apply to have 80 percent of their unpaid rent covered by the state.
Advocacy groups expect state lawmakers will announce an agreement on that and an extension to the eviction moratorium before this weekend, so legislators can vote on the proposals next week. California’s current moratorium on evictions ends June 30.
Renters like Gabriel Guzman of Chula Vista have been closely following the developments. After he and his wife lost their jobs during the pandemic, he sought rental protections but his family was still evicted in December through what he considers a loophole.
He estimates he owes his previous landlord about $12,000 in unpaid rent.
"Yes the pandemic is almost done, we hope, as far as the virus being transmitted, but the financial portion of it is just beginning," he said.
The looming deadline will have little immediate impact in San Diego. Both the city and county have local ordinances that will continue to delay evictions for unpaid rent until after the local emergency is declared over.
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would extend a federal eviction moratorium one additional month, through July 31. The impact of that CDC announcement on California was not immediately clear because the state has its own moratorium statute, said Russ Heimrich, a spokesman for the state’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.
While state lawmakers are widely expected to announce an extension, the contours of that deal are still a matter of fierce debate among landlord and tenant groups.
Tenant groups say evictions should not begin until California distributes all the rental aid it has already set aside.
The state is in the process of distributing an initial pot of $1.4 billion. Governor Newsom’s proposal to cover 100 percent of unpaid rent would bring the total spending on rent forgiveness to $5.2 billion.
As of Wednesday, 86,607 people had applied for state aid. Only 5,443 households had received it. The state has distributed $61.5 million, Heimrich said.
Some local jurisdictions like San Diego County, the City of San Diego, and Chula Vista are distributing aid separately from the state. The county and the city did not immediately respond to a request for an update on their rollout of funds.
California has already extended its eviction moratorium twice before. Instead of tying the latest moratorium to a fixed date, Shanti Singh of Tenants Together said the state should sunset protections based on economic indicators, like the unemployment rate.
“With these expirations and renewals it’s an attempt to sort of pick a date and we're trying to say there is no magic recovery date,” Singh said.
Groups representing landlords would like the state’s eviction moratorium to lapse as soon as possible. They argue economic conditions have improved and landlords are running out of flexibility.
“The fact that some of these landlords are still in business is shocking,” said Debra Carlton of the California Apartment Association. “They've also taken out just as many loans as some tenants have and they're at the end of their period in which the banks are giving them any sort of extension. They can't apply for any more loans.”
Governor Newsom’s proposal to cover 100 percent of unpaid rent would apply to people who can show a pandemic-related financial hardship. Individuals would qualify if they make no more than 80 percent of the median income in their area.
In San Diego County, a family of five would qualify if they make under $104,800. The threshold for a family of three is $87,300. A single person could make up to $67,900.
A complete breakdown of the income requirements is available here.