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Guest Opinion: We must act now to avoid an eviction crisis

OPINION: Here in Alameda County, we are confronted by the daily reality that in addition to the COVID-19 crisis, we are also amid a housing crisis -- and facing a daunting cliff.
NateMiley
Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley.

Mask mandates have been lifted, in-person events have begun to return, and national unemployment has rebounded significantly. No one can predict the future. But we can see that Gov. Newsom and local health officials are beginning to plan for the next stage of living with COVID-19.

Here in Alameda County, we are confronted by the daily reality that in addition to the COVID-19 crisis, we are also amid a housing crisis -- and facing a daunting cliff.

In August 2020 the Alameda County Board of Supervisors extended the COVID-19 eviction moratorium to allow residents to shelter-in-place, regardless of income status, during the crisis.

From the very beginning, I abstained from supporting this ordinance in favor of a voucher system which I felt would prevent situations where tenants and landlords are now pitted against each other. The ordinance prohibits almost all evictions in the county and allows tenants 12 months to repay back rent. This moratorium was intended to limit the impacts on low-income renters and prevent thousands of residents from falling into homelessness.

This ordinance is tied to the local health emergency. When the Alameda County Health Care state of emergency is lifted, it will trigger the expiration of the moratorium on evictions in 60 days.

Whether that time comes sooner or later, we need to be ready. The question we must ask is what do we do next?

Now we must act to avoid a wave of evictions of low-income tenants when the moratorium comes to an end. We also know that property owners have struggled to meet mortgage and property tax demands on rental properties and wrestled against foreclosing institutions.

We need to act now to help people remain housed and keep rental properties in Alameda County.

I call on my fellow supervisors to join me in pursuing these main approaches.

First, is to urge the federal government to provide additional resources to support renters and property owners. The pandemic isn't over, and the need in Alameda County remains great.

Alameda County's rental assistance fund has received over 12,000 applications requesting over $200 million in aid. We should identify new ways, including a voucher system, to ensure that the funds flow directly to those who need the help most.

Second, is to prepare our local courts to be flooded with cases. We must seek additional funding from the State to allow for eviction proceedings to move forward when needed.

Cases have been brought to my office's attention where seniors rent out a room in their homes and now fear for their health and safety at the hands of their tenant -- or small property owners who face financial ruin. Currently, the courts have no capacity to hear these urgent requests.

My office has received numerous complaints from property owners renting to individuals fully capable of paying rent, who have refused to do so. This gives tenants a bad name.

Pandemic protections were enacted to support the most vulnerable residents in our community who were struggling. Tenants who can pay rent and are withholding it are taking advantage of, and putting at risk these very protections.

I think it is essential for all stakeholders to work on these solutions and seek additional ones. I am more than willing to facilitate those discussions. Together, we can ensure that those who can pay rent, pay their rent. And those who can't, especially the extremely low-income, get the help they need to avoid an eviction crisis.

Editor's note: Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley represents Pleasanton, East Oakland, Castro Valley, El Portal Ridge, Ashland, Cherryland, Fairview and Montclair on the Board of Supervisors.