Image caption: More than 500 Bay Area renters have been evicted during the pandemic. The RTO Network organized an action to close eviction court in Santa Clara County, which remains open despite skyrocketing COVID transmission rates.
Last week, Governor Newsom signed into law SB 91, extending much-needed eviction protections and providing modest rent forgiveness. The significance of extending protections to renters who are behind on rent due to pandemic shutdowns and job losses cannot be overstated during a public health crisis. The rest of the law, however, falls far short of what 1.1 million California renters behind on rent
really need: true rent forgiveness.
Tenant advocates across the state are also concerned about the loopholes in this law. One such loophole grants landlords the power to choose which tenants can get rental relief by making rent forgiveness conditional on landlord participation.
In arguably one of the most progressive states in the nation with a democratic majority, lawmakers have effectively legalized landlords' ability to discriminate against tenants. This is despite a long and well-established history of landlord discrimination. This kind of power will surely be exploited for maximum profit on the backs of low-income Black, Indigenous, and people of color renters.
Even before SB 91 passed, 80% of renters at risk of eviction were of color
, and studies have shown that Black households were more than twice as likely to be evicted than anyone else during the pandemic. Any loophole in our eviction protections will perpetuate racist displacement and harm low-income communities of color. Another group made vulnerable by SB 91 are those who live in rent-controlled units and are behind on rent. Landlords now have the option to forgo SB 91 funds and evict these tenants in order to bring in new renters who are able to pay market rate.
These carve-outs for landlords demonstrate that the demands of tenants and tenant advocates have gone largely ignored, despite robust organizing. They also fly in the face of what we know: housing is health. Until enough of us are vaccinated, our ability to stay at home remains an essential weapon against the virus. Tenant organizers and advocates must continue the work of building tenant power so that we shape the laws, institutions, and policies that govern our access to stable and affordable housing.