Tenants still waiting on rent relief will now have more time before their landlords can evict them.

The Legislature voted Thursday to extend eviction protections through June 30 — just hours before those safeguards were set to expire. The bill was signed into law Thursday afternoon by Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis.

The new legislation, AB 2179, which takes effect immediately, prevents landlords from evicting tenants who have applied for emergency rent relief from the state but whose applications have not yet been approved, or who haven’t yet received payments.

The bill, however, maintains an existing deadline of March 31 — today — to submit applications to the state rent relief program. Those who apply by today will be protected from eviction through the end of June — but no new applications will be accepted after today.

Rodney Davis, 61, a renter in Sacramento, is one of those tenants who would likely be evicted if not for an extension. He applied for assistance in October, and is still waiting on a payment from the city’s local rent relief program, known as SERA2. He said he would be elated if the bill were signed.

“I have a fighting chance,” Davis said. “It’s a chance to give the SERA2 program what they promised they would do for me and so many others.”

More than half a million people have applied to the state’s emergency rent relief program — called Housing Is Key — since it launched in March 2021. But fewer than half of those applicants have received payments, according to the state’s dashboard.

Meanwhile, more than a third of applicants have reported receiving an eviction notice or some other active threat of eviction at the time they applied for the funds, according to the National Equity Atlas.

“My birthday’s [next week],” Davis said. “Chances are I would have been homeless on my birthday. And, you know, that’s not right. And not just me, but thousands of others.”

The state received more than $5 billion from the federal government to assist renters who fell behind on payments due to the pandemic. Some of that money has gone to cities that set up their own rent relief options, such as Sacramento’s SERA2 program. The state’s dashboard does not show how many people have received assistance that way.

“It would be cruel” if protections expired March 31, said Assemblymember Tim Grayson, D-Concord, who co-authored the extension bill. “It would be wasteful and unfair to subject Californians to eviction or the loss of rental income now, when they have done everything that they have been asked and also the distribution of their emergency rental assistance is imminent.”

Housing Is Key has been mired with problems from the start. Tenants and landlords have complained about the lengthy and confusing application, technological barriers, and a general lack of outreach to let people know about the program, among a slew of other issues. The application also has not been translated into enough languages to sufficiently accommodate the state’s diverse population, some advocates say, making it difficult for some non-English speakers to apply.

The state took action last year to remedy some of those issues, but applicants were still reporting problems as late as February. An analysis of the program by the research group PolicyLink found that non-English speakers are still underrepresented among those who have applied.

But one of the biggest barriers — and complaints — has been the time it takes to get paid. Jim Siegel, 66, has nine rental properties in San Francisco and Sonoma counties. He applied for rent relief on behalf of six of his tenants in April 2021, but said he is still waiting on payouts for two of them.

Together, the outstanding balance totals around $150,000, he said.

“This wiped out my bank accounts,” Siegel said. “I have no money in the bank. I cannot retire. I’m going to have to continue to work.”

Many tenants say they are just now returning to work, and insist the ongoing protections are crucial. Concord resident Carlos Gama, 62, a banquet waiter at a hotel in San Francisco, said he only got called to resume work in April, and expects it will take time for him to regain his normal salary.

“We just need a little more time until everything gets back to normal,” he said in Spanish.

Despite these concerns, the California Rental Housing Association, a group that represents mostly small landlords, criticized the extension bill, saying “enough is enough.”

“As the state has reopened and the pandemic regresses, there is no longer a need to have a statewide eviction moratorium,” said lobbyist Kate Bell, who represents the organization.

Some tenant advocates are also blasting the bill for overriding stronger, local protections for renters in some areas – including those in San Francisco and Los Angeles County.

Madeline Howard, a senior staff attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty, said that loophole in the law is “bad public policy,” because in many cases, local laws add protections not covered by the statewide law.

“We’re blocking these local protections that would have helped people for a time period that is not covered at all or addressed at all by the state law,” she said. “So there’s this fundamental mismatch there.”

Speaking at a Senate hearing on Thursday morning, Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said he intended to vote against the bill for that reason.

“We want to locally protect our renters,” he said. “We should not be stopping cities from stepping in to protect renters who have been harmed by COVID.”

Some lawmakers also questioned whether the state would be able to clear its existing backlog of applications by June 30. The PolicyLink analysis found that, at the current pace, clearing that backlog could take until Thanksgiving.

“We’re extending time to help a process that has been slow and riddled with problems, without any discussion about putting more people on board to help manage this in a quicker, more efficient way,” said state Sen. Sydney Kamlager, D-Los Angeles, at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday.

A letter from Gustavo Velasquez, director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which administers the program, asked the bill’s authors to extend the eviction protections an additional month — until July 31 — to give his agency more time to clear the applications in the queue.

“Without additional time, there is a significant risk that tenants who have been notified of payment approval, but who have not yet received their payment, may self-evict,” Velasquez wrote. “Unlike other relief programs, the timing of the receipt of rental assistance is inextricably linked to potential legal actions, with serious consequences if the timing is not perfectly aligned.”

Velasquez said his department is now processing as many as 10,000 applications a week.

But at Wednesday’s Senate hearing, the bill’s authors doubled down on the June 30 deadline, emphasizing that part of the problem has been the slow distribution of federal funds to the state. They noted the Legislature in February agreed to loan money from the state’s general fund to the program to expedite payments.

“It’s our hope that that will give us enough time to honor all the commitments that we’ve had,” said Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, a co-author of the bill.

Are you waiting on a rent relief payment for yourself or from a tenant? Here’s what you need to know.

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