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Renters seek help as California's eviction moratorium set to end this week

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Ora Prochovnick, Eviction Defense Collaborative Director of Litigation and Policy, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss concerns about the moratorium lifting and the risks to individual tenants.

Video Transcript

- I want to turn now to COVID-19 eviction moratoriums, because California's eviction ban expires tomorrow. And it clears the way for landlords to evict tenants who have not been paying their rent. So for more on this, we want to bring in Ora Prochovnick, Eviction Defense Collaborative Director of Litigation and Policy, along with Yahoo Finance's reporter Dani Romero. And, Ora, it's great to have you. It's been a month since the Supreme Court blocked the extension of the Federal Eviction Moratorium, and we haven't necessarily seen the wave of evictions that we were bracing ourselves to see. Is this going to change things?

ORA PROCHOVNICK: Well, one of the reasons we didn't see a wave of convictions after the Supreme Court's ruling is that there were a number of local moratoriums in place. And the state Supreme Court ruling had no effect on state, city, and county local rulings. So we are going to be in a very different picture come October 1. California has a significantly large population and is losing its moratorium as of the end of September.

- And, Ora, you know, I had a quick question about-- I was looking at the numbers from the Housing is Key, the program that California has. And it's unclear on how many applications still have a pending status when it comes to rental relief, so what continues to be a struggle as people are, like, applying for this relief?

ORA PROCHOVNICK: There are absolutely a very high number of pending applications, where the paperwork has been submitted to the state. But the funds have not yet been released, and there's such a large number of factors that are involved in that. The applications are made about the landlord's side of the relationship and the tenant's side, and then there's a matching that has to occur.

There is a great deal of documentation that's required to verify tenant eligibility. They have to be, at least, at 80% of adjusted median income to be able to be qualified. They have to demonstrate a COVID related financial hardship.

They need to document the precise sum of rent that's owed, so all of that takes time to provide. And then you layer, on top of that, language barriers if the tenant is not a native English speaker. There are attempts to have adequate translation services, but they're not all working as well as they could be. And then there's what we call the digital divide.

The entire system was set up to operate online. Not all tenants who need this assistance have email, or internet access, or even cell phones. So other means of processing their applications have to be created, and that's all slowing the process down.

- Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is going to get grilled about the funds, the billions of dollars that were made available tomorrow on Capitol Hill. What question would you ask her, or does this really fall down at the responsibility of the states?

ORA PROCHOVNICK: I think the responsibility exists at all levels. And I also think that one of the things that should be asked of Secretary Yellen is, will there be additional funds released by Treasury to supplement what's already been released? Because, if you just look at the sheer numbers, it sounds like such a lot of money in terms of how much rental assistance is already made available. But when you look at the arrears, it's not going to touch it.

And although there's a lot of protections in place right now in California, even though the moratorium is lifting, tenants will continue to be protected as long as there are pending rental assistance applications that are in the works. But once the programs run out of money, all those evictions will be allowed to go forward. So it's essential, first, that tenants apply early and participate in the program. And it's also essential that there be enough funds available for those applications.

- And, you know, in California, they have about $5.2 billion for rental assistance. Is that enough to cover all the tenants that need it?

ORA PROCHOVNICK: Absolutely not. It's what I was just referring to. It sounds like a huge number, and it's simply not going to touch the problem. And there will need to be additional funds.

- Ora, I guess, the biggest question now is facing so many when we talk about the fact that we haven't seen the number of evictions that we were bracing ourselves for. A lot of that has to do with, like you said, because of the local laws that were put in place. I guess, to what extent or when should we then brace ourselves to see that wave?

Is it going to be when these states-- when the eviction moratoriums that the states have implemented, when they do begin to expire, so I know New York's isn't for another couple of months. So it will be over the next, what? Six to 12 months?

ORA PROCHOVNICK: Yes, we will be seeing it over the next window of time. California anticipates what everybody's been referring to as a tsunami, or we're all going over a cliff on October 1. I don't think that's actually what's going to happen. I think it will start, as a slower trickle, and then it will proceed quicker and quicker.

One of the reasons that it will not start with this massive tsunami is because of the protections I've been referencing. So the statewide moratorium came through a bill known as the 832 and built into that legislation, where further protections, they stay in place through March 22. Sorry, March of 2022. And under that continued transitory period, the court process to evict, the unlawful detainer action, will have several stages at which, basically, there's a check to prevent it from going forward, unless there's evidence provided of every effort being made to utilize the rental assistance programs.

So with the front end, the landlord will not even be able to obtain their summons, which is the process for bringing the tenant into the jurisdiction of the court, though, summons will not issue, unless the landlord satisfactorily demonstrates to the court that they've applied for statewide rental assistance and been denied. Those denials can only be for one of three reasons. The tenant was not eligible, because they're not under 80% of AMI. For a single person, that's income of about $100,000, or there can be a denial. Because the tenant refused to cooperate in the process.

The landlord applies, and the tenant ignores it. Or there could be a denial, because the program runs out of money. And that's, as I mentioned earlier, one of our greatest fears.

There's a second mechanism for protecting tenants, even if the summons is issued, and that is further along in the court process. The tenant can obtain what's called a stay of execution. They can delay or pause the entire process upon demonstrating to the court that the tenant has an approved application for rental assistance.

It doesn't require that the funds already have been released, but it requires more than merely a pending application. It has to be approved. And if that exists, the court will freeze the process, until the payment is made.

- And is there a really, like, a long term solution to this? Is there one, especially in California?

ORA PROCHOVNICK: I think the long term solution requires much more systemic change than just-- we can't just keep throwing money at the problem and say, that's going to address it. We've released a great deal of funds for these Treasury payments to both the state wide area and some local cities and counties. And that's not enough to go at the severe problem of the disparity in who's able to pay rent, and who's not, and the lack of affordable housing. And those deep rooted problems need to be addressed.

- Ora Prochovnick, thanks so much for taking the time to join us, Eviction Defense Collaborative Director of Litigation and Policy, and our thanks to Dani Romero, as well.