North Bay Organizing Project and the Sonoma County Tenants Union held a press conference outside the Sonoma County Courthouse at 9:00am this past Tuesday, September 1. Tenants, housing leaders and community organizers spoke to the looming wave of evictions set to start at the beginning of September and voice their continued demands of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. General attendance was virtual, over Zoom. https://zoom.us/j/99245081899 Renters in our community and across the state are facing an impossible crisis. Sonoma County has long been impacted by previous fires, floods and a continuously worsening housing crisis. In the aftermath of past disasters, state and local governments have continually prioritized policies that benefit real estate and developer interests over policies that would protect renters. This county must now grapple with these problems within a global pandemic and the worst fire crisis in California history. With the COVID-19 outbreak, our Latinx community, who prior to the pandemic was already disproportionately rent burdened, has a rate of infection four times the white population. Six months into the pandemic, COVID-19 cases continue to surge in California and Sonoma County while the local, state and federal governments give mixed messages about safety and reopening. Distribution of federal unemployment stimulus money has now ceased. Amidst these compounding disasters, renters will face another precarious and life- threatening situation after September 1, the day when eviction protections from California’s State Judicial Council ruling would end. It is estimated that 10,800 households in Sonoma County are under imminent threat of eviction.
“Despite the recent last-minute deal Governor Newsom made instead of moving forward with
AB 1436, and despite Sonoma County’s local eviction moratorium, these short-term fixes merely put off evictions until some point after the state of emergency ends. If we allow that to happen, our community is going to look very different. We’ll see the burn scars from this pandemic for years to come,” says Sarah Casmith, NBOP Interim Board President.
Over the course of the pandemic, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has been quick to make decisions about business re-openings while delaying decisions affecting renters. In May and June, Sonoma County appealed to the state government to fast forward the re-opening process while failing to meet their own public health metrics for re-opening. As a result, thousands more people have become sick with COVID-19 or have been required to isolate or quarantine due to known exposures, a situation that is expected to become worse as fire season continues. While the Board of Supervisors did pass an ordinance that prevents the immediate eviction of tenants who are unable to pay rent due to COVID-19, it places the burden of proof on the tenant and still allows for the eviction of those tenants once the state of emergency ends. Hundreds of tenants have called for making strong eviction protections a priority, yet the board has repeatedly put off improving the eviction moratorium currently in place.
This was the final hour for renters. If stronger, more meaningful, and longer-term protections are not implemented, there will be a surge in the county’s already large homeless population. In order to stop massive homelessness and displacement, and to protect the public health of our community, we need an eviction moratorium that:
· Extends the ban on evictions for 12 months after the public health emergency declaration ends
· Bans all evictions, including a ban on evictions for unpaid rent once the moratorium expires
· Does not require documentation of proof of lost income to the landlord
· Prohibits late fees and rent increases
Strengthening this eviction moratorium is truly a life or death decision -- what will the Board of Supervisors choose, with renters’ lives in their hands?