Friday, March 5, 2021
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Newsom housing deal leaves tenants at risk

Legislation would give landlords state bailout money -- but includes no provisions for future tenant protections.


Tenant advocates are denouncing a compromise plan backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that would pay off some back rent and prevent some evictions over the next six months of the pandemic.

Newsom is ready to bail out big landlords — but the Real Estate Lobby gives nothing in return.

The deal, run by the Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, includes sb91. It would extend the eviction moratorium until July, and would provide a few other tenant protections.

The state would also offer to pay off 80 percent of back rent – if landlords agree to forgive the other 20 percent.

But Tenants Together and the Housing NOW California coalition say the measure falls far short of what’s needed. The deal, they say

leaves millions of tenants at risk of eviction and crushing housing debt by making landlord participation voluntary, and keeps us all at higher risk from a spreading virus.

While the deal will benefit indebted tenants whose landlords choose to participate, the consequences could be dire for tenants whose landlords opt out. Despite months of organizing and advocacy for effective rent relief, a coalition of over a hundred tenant, labor, legal aid, faith-based, and social justice organizations was completely shut out of negotiations leading up to the Governor’s announcement.

The coalition will hold a press conference Tuesday/26 at 10 am to call on the Guv and the Legislature to take a different approach:

Financial relief to landlords to address unpaid rent for eligible tenants must be coupled with additional tenant protections, such as long-term prohibitions on no fault evictions, including Ellis Act evictions, and limitations on rent increases.

Small mom and pop and struggling landlords must be first in line and tenants must have protections as intended by the $2.6 billion in federal funds.

There should be no further preemption of local authority. Jurisdictions must have maximum flexibility to craft locally tailored solutions. State laws should complement local rent relief efforts, not dictate them.

Here’s the key element: The coalition is arguing that any deal that gives relief to big landlords also has to have conditions. “You can’t take $10,000 from the state and then use the Ellis Act to evict your tenants,” Anya Svanoe, a spokesperson for the coalition, told me.

I would go a step further: If the state of California is going to give any sort of bailout at all to big landlords, then the Landlord Lobby – one of the most powerful political interests in Sacramento – should have to agree to stop blocking tenant reforms.

Specifically, any bill that gives public money to big landlords should be conditioned on the California Association of Realtors agreeing not to oppose the repeal of the Ellis Act and Costa Hawkins.

This is an opportunity not just to protect tenants from eviction but to change the way we think about housing.

Tenants in the state owe more than $3 billion in back rent. Some small landlords are struggling to pay their mortgages. It’s going to take a lot of state and federal money to address the crisis.

But tenant groups argue that there’s no reason to give money to an industry that has poured vast amounts of political money and capital into making sure that tenants have only limited rights and that cities can’t protect existing vulnerable communities.

If tax dollars are going to underwrite big landlords, they say, the public needs to get something in return.

Let’s see if the Guv is willing to stand up to Big Real Estate.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. I am truly grateful Governor Newsom has offered this bill as a solution to the horrible nightmare that so many tenants and small landlords are facing around job losses, or reductions in income, and shelter in place orders, resulting in unpaid rent, and eviction moratoriums that have to be continually fought for and extended. It is truly a step in the right direction. However, I am also disappointed that several organizations, and thus the voices of concerned citizens that have the most to lose, were blocked from the negotiations. We are not children that need to be told what is going to happen by a parent. We are adults, who live and work in this state, who also vote. When something that impacts our continued ability to live in our homes, or be evicted, then we need to have a voice in the decisions that are made that affect us.

    This is not about tenants being irresponsible or consciously choosing not to pay rent; this is about a horrific pandemic that has put our entire world into jeopardy economically, and is also affecting health and lives, and even threatens to put countless people onto the streets when we already have way too many homeless people that we are not providing enough resources to for shelter. Making decisions that affect us, but do not include our voices, is reprehensible.

    I absolutely agree that small mom & pop landlords should be first in line for this relief because they have the most to lose, compared to big corporate landlords. I propose that if this is voluntary on the landlord’s part, then alternative solutions have to be offered to tenants who’s landlords opt out AND they get to have a voice in those solutions.

    I am disappointed that this proposed bill hasn’t included our voices, our decision making capabilities, our suggestions for solutions, our agreement or disagreement to solutions, etc. This is OUR lives we’re talking about.

  2. If a tenant is getting 100% rent forgiveness (80% from the state and 20% from the landlord), for a year or more then it seems a tad churlish to try and attach a wishlist of conditions to it.

  3. One of the problems with going to the voters with your agenda and getting shellacked is that you forfeit any credibility to speak on behalf of the people.

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