California's populous coastal megalopolises are notorious for high rents and high costs of living. Throw in a pandemic, a recession, a socially unresponsive federal government, and the end of an eviction moratorium, and you have a recipe for a social crisis.
Now, a new report from Working Partnerships USA, a non-profit organization based in Silicon Valley that focuses on addressing poverty and inequality, reveals the extent of the looming eviction crisis in Santa Clara County — home county to San Jose, Mountain View and other highly unequal Silicon Valley cities. Their report finds that thousands of people are at risk of being evicted once the eviction moratorium ends in the county.
"An estimated 43,490 renter households in Santa Clara County are at the highest risk of eviction — roughly 16 times the typical number of evictions filed in a whole year," the organization wrote in a report titled "The Eviction Time-Bomb." "These are households with people who have lost work, but do not receive unemployment or other income replacement."
The report identified two key issues: the impending expiration of the $600 per week supplemental unemployment benefits, which is scheduled to happen on August 1; and the termination of the county's eviction moratorium on August 31.
Not only will renters be required to resume paying rent on a diminished income once these two policy expirations have occurred, but the ordinance which protected families during the moratorium does not prohibit landlords from charging for months of back rent and evicting tenants starting six months after the moratorium ends. Landlords will also have the right to sue renters in order to garnish their wages for unpaid rent and report them to credit agencies as a way of punishing them for not doing so.
The subtext of the report is that the eviction crisis in Santa Clara foreshadows a renter apocalypse that will soon grip much of the Golden State.
Many other large California counties have eviction moratoriums that are set to expire. Los Angeles County's Board of Supervisors approved an eviction moratorium and rent freeze that ends on September 30, 2020, though it may yet be extended. San Mateo County, just north of Santa Clara County, has an eviction moratorium that is set to expire on August 31, 2020.
Working Partnerships USA also pointed out that members of the African American and Latinx communities are likely to be especially hard hit by these developments.
"COVID-19 has cost thousands of people in Santa Clara County — especially Black and Latinx people working in industries that pay low wages — the jobs and income they depend on to make rent," the authors of the report write. "Over 200,000 working people in Santa Clara County filed claims for Unemployment Insurance (UI) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims just between March 15 and May 30, 2020. Thousands more, including many of the estimated 95,000 undocumented workers in the county, have likely been ineligible or unable to access programs to replace their income."
Previously, US Congress passed an eviction ban as part of the CARES Act, although landlords around the country flagrantly violated that ban and proceeded with evictions, as ProPublica reported in April.
Working Partnerships recommends that cities implement a permanent prohibition on evicting tenants who are unable to pay their rent as a result of income lost due to the coronavirus pandemic, providing relief to tenants who are most at-risk and making sure tenants faced with eviction have access to legal services, education and services that can avert homelessness and displacement.
Salon spoke with Jeffrey Buchanan, the director of public policy at Working Partnerships USA, who discussed the broader national implications of the crisis facing Santa Clara County.
"When you look at this disaster, particularly in the housing market, it has exposed the flawed structure of how we deal with housing, particularly rental housing," Buchanan explained. "Here in Santa Clara County, we have a handful of billionaires that are the largest owners of rental housing, and it's largely low income people of color who are disproportionately relying on rental housing. And that's as a consequence of history of red lining, of occupational segregation, of other forms of discrimination and predatory lending that has ensured that, for particularly for Latino and black families, they don't have equal access to being able to be owners of housing."
He added, "It's really set up a system where a handful of billionaires and a number of largely wealthy, large investors that own most of the rental housing, in our community at least, are setting the rules of the road of how housing policy works often times. "
Buchanan pointed out that, throughout America, working families are often unable to keep up with the rising cost of housing regardless of the wage increases or other theoretically ameliorative policies that are put in place to help them.
"I think for many of us, seeing how this has played out has really made the case for more community ownership of housing, rethinking even the kind of existing models around affordable housing that in this moment are almost just as challenging for adapting to tenants that see their income go to zero," Buchanan told Salon. "Trying to think about what kind of models for community ownership — what this consolidation of corporate ownership of so much of our housing means, and what that means in trying to develop policy that addresses the needs of the many rather than the few."
Recently Salon spoke with Dr. Richard D. Wolff, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, about the housing crisis caused by the pandemic-induced economic shutdown. Wolff was of the opinion that the pandemic has exposed serious structural flaws in capitalism itself.
"The irony that we will all look back on is that the very inequalities that helped to produce this latest crash of capitalism are actually being made worse by how it's being managed," Wolff told Salon, explaining how landlords are likely to resist any long-term efforts to provide rent relief to those who were rendered unable to afford their residential or commercial rent due to the pandemic. "And what that means is exactly what it meant in 2008 and 2009, when the same thing happened: The inequalities only got worse, and here we are barely a decade after the end of the last one. And we're in an even worse one, rivaling the Great Depression."